Diabetes and Shift Work

Shift work may pay the bills, but new research shows it may also come at a cost to your health. A new study published in “Occupational and Environmental Medicine” finds working overnight or rotating shifts is associated with a higher risk for type 2 diabetes.

Researchers found working rotating shifts, rather than consistent daytime work hours, was associated with a 42 percent increased risk for type 2 diabetes. Overall, they found people who work unconventional schedules — especially working the “graveyard” shift — may increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by an average of 9 percent.

So, what is the possible reason? Erratic working schedules make it more difficult to have an acceptable sleep-wake cycle. This can worsen your insulin resistance, which is a precursor to diabetes. Previous studies have shown a connection between shift work and weight gain, which is also a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

The researchers say shift work may be more detrimental to men because levels of the male sex hormone, testosterone, are controlled by the body’s natural rhythm. Lower testosterone can cause insulin resistance and therefore raise one’s risk for diabetes. Men who engage in shift work have a 37% higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, when compared to those who work the standard 9 to 5 shift.

Research has also shows late night and rotating shift work can have a serious impact on women’s health as well, particularly her fertility. A study published in 2013, involving 119,000 women, found female shift workers had a 22 percent greater risk for menstrual problems and as much as 80 percent higher risk for low fertility than women who kept normal work hours.

Health experts believe shift workers should be screened regularly for pre-diabetes. They also suggest getting prescriptions for sleep aids, if necessary.