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Can working the night shift put you at risk for diabetes?

Jan 14, 2015

I was intrigued by recent research I read about night shift workers having a higher risk for diabetes. The findings were posted January 11 in Diabetologia from a large ongoing study of African-American women, the Black Women’s Health Study (BWHS). They found that working night shift increased the risk of developing diabetes. The more years someone worked night shift, the higher their risk. Compared to women who had never worked night shift, the risk of developing diabetes was 17% for 1-2 years of night shift work, 23% for 3-9 years, and 42% for 10 or more years. They adjusted for BMI and lifestyle risk factors and still found a 23% increase in diabetes for those who had worked night shift for over 10 years compared to someone who had never worked night shift. They also found that the risk was even higher 39% for 10+ years of night shift for women under 50 compared to 17% higher for women over 50 years.

My husband has worked nights for almost 10 years now and I have seen him continue to struggle year after year to adjust to the schedule. His body has never ‘adjusted’ and we are pretty much convinced it never will. I always have feared the permanent effects that this may have on his health. The wonderful news for us is that he is finally moving to day shift in a couple months!

Our family has seen firsthand how working night shift disrupts your circadian rhythms and an overall reduction in hours of sleep. I would not wish it on anyone. To me, this study says a few things to us as educators-

1.) Get to those employers who have night shifts. If you are in a position where you can do worksite wellness, make sure employers have this information. They may not obviously be able to eliminate their night shift, but knowing the increase in diabetes will ding their health insurance may be a motivator. Perhaps they need to do a more targeted health education and intervention with their night shift employees. I have done a series of diabetes classes with various shifts at a factory. We made it fun and the employees really enjoyed it.

2.) If we have the opportunity to meet individually with someone who has many risk factors for diabetes and they are currently working night shift or considering it, share these findings with them so they are aware they need to think about a plan for eventually moving to day shift for their health. Financially it may seem desirable or necessary but for any significant period of time, it’s really not worth the effects on your health.

Have you seen an increase diabetes risk in those who work night shift? Have you found that your night shift patients have more complications or more trouble controlling their diabetes?

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