Risks of working late nights

Dr Sahil Kapoor

The service sector is expanding at a fast pace. Various sectors like the IT sector, BPOs, call centres, hospitality, security, transport services, etc. require people to work throughout the night. This can be quite exhausting, as night shifts can affect workers, both physically and mentally. 

There have been many researches that have proved that nighshift schedule cumulatively contributes to the occurrence of metabolic disorders which may cause heart, cancer and other critical diseases. Studies reveal that people who work in night shifts are prone to heart diseases, cancer or other serious illnesses. 

The human body has an in-built biological clock which regulates our natural activities daily. This is called the circadian rhythm. This clock dictates our daily timetable and tells us when to sleep, wake, and eat. The tempo of this rhythm varies from person to person, but there is a natural cycle for everyone. Working in the irregular hours like night shifts affects this natural circadian rhythm. 

Sleep is indispensable for overall human health. When a person sleeps, the body gets rid of toxins, repairs injury, and reduces stress, while in this resting mode. These essential processes get affected when a person works irregular hours. In the long run it can lead to many of the disorders, including increase in risk of heart diseases, cancer and many other medical problems. 

Working in night shifts disrupts several markers involved in the regulation of body weight — leptin, insulin and cortisol. All this combined contributes to the increased risk for the development of cardiovascular diseases and cancer. 

There have many studies proving that circadian misalignment provokes a drop in levels of the weight-regulating hormone leptin. Plummeting leptin levels could hasten the onset of obesity and heart diseases by prompting increases in appetite and decreases in activity. 

Multiple researches show that even if people do not have high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol to begin with, there is still an unknown factor that raises the risk of heart disease. According to researchers, the disrupted biological rhythms could be the culprit.

The service sectors offer increasing opportunities besides not everyone can have the options to choose from. Many of these employment sectors require working in the graveyard hours as well. Many youngsters often opt for this particular shift to either to earn extra bucks or out of sheer economic necessity. Tampering with the daily routine disrupts the natural circadian rhythm which may eventually weaken the immune system, leading to adverse effects on health. 

The problems that night-shift workers face during working hours include fatigue and a lack of energy. Getting proper sleep and eating right are two things which can minimise the harmful effects of working night shifts. Regularity of the time of taking meals should be maintained. This trains the body to stay regulated even during the wee hours. A high-protein breakfast is highly advisable along with a decrease in intake of sugary beverages and junk food. 

A work-life balance is essential for good physical, mental and emotional health. Those who work night shifts can achieve this by maintaining a disciplined life. Sleeping well and eating right can help to stay disease-free. 

— The writer is consultant, family medicine, Aakash Healthcare Super Speciality Hospital, New Delhi