Sleep, for me, has been a quite the learning process. Going to an academically rigorous high-school, I pulled plenty of all-nighters, and generally got very little sleep. This increased my stress level, decreased my productivity and made me gain weight. Following that, I spent two years working 24-hour shifts. This was even worse. It meant that I would go to work for 24 hours, then come home for 24 hours. I could feel my body resisting that lifestyle. I would get sick very often, be too tired to exercise, skip meals in favor of catching up on sleep, and feel stressed-out and anxious a lot of the time.
Anyone who has worked shifts knows that horrible feeling of leaving the office when the sun is shining, after not getting any sleep during the night. But now there is a study that shows night shifts have a much more dangerous effect than temporary exhaustion; it could give you heart disease.
A study done by The American Heart Association shows correlation between night shift work, and heart disease. The research found that “insufficient sleep and sleep-cycle disruption can impair the body’s rhythms and cardiovascular function, and may explain increased cardiovascular risks observed in shift workers.”
In order to examine the ways in which circadian rhythm disturbances affects the heart, researchers conducted the study on 26 individuals. They requested that all 26 sleep for five hours per night for eight days, and restricted them either using set bedtimes, which are known as circadian alignment, or through delaying their bedtimes by 8.5 hours on four of the eight days, which is known as circadian misalignment.
The results showed an increased heart rate during the day for both groups, with an even worse increase during the night among the circadian misalignment group. In addition, both groups had an increase in urinary excretion of the hormone norepinephrine, also known as the stress hormone, which increases heart rate, triggers the release of glucose, and increases blood flow. That was combined with a decreased activity of the vagal nerve, which has a restorative effect on cardiovascular function. Well, that explains why I was so on-edge during those two years of shift work.
Dr. Daniela Grimaldi, M.D., Ph.D. at Northwestern University in Chicago explained the findings; “In humans, as in all mammals, almost all physiological and behavioral processes, in particular the sleep-wake cycle, follow a circadian rhythm that is regulated by an internal clock located in the brain.” This means that “when our sleep-wake and feeding cycles are not in tune with the rhythms dictated by our internal clock, circadian misalignment occurs.”
So, what can the workers do about it? Researchers suggest keeping other aspects of your life healthy through a stable diet, regular exercise and, you guessed it, more sleep! This will somewhat counteract on the lack of stability your body is experiencing, and give it some consistency.