Have You Ever Heard How Night Shift Shortens Your Lifespan? Whys and Hows of That Reality.
From A Former Nightshifter
I'm now Forty-Nine years old as I write this and spent a significant portion of my life working the third shift, the night watch, or as some call it, the graveyard shift. If I add it all together it equals out to 28 years of my life was spent on the third shift. That's over half of my entire life and accounts for the biggest majority of my adult life and working career. My longest time spent on the night shift was as a shift Sargent with a correctional facility. Reading about shift work and studies on how our careers and professions affect our lives I've found many studies suggesting that working the night shift may be shorting our lives, for varied reasons.
Failing to prioritize certain things while working night shifts can shorten your life according to reports. That is, of course, if you don't pay special attention to prioritizing sleep, consuming a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and making time for the things you enjoy. If you have kids, a spouse, or a family unit of some type, you'll find it's harder to say than do. You're sleeping when they're living. If you work through the weekends and your days off fall during the normal, or rather typical, workweek, then you miss out on a certain amount of family time. Some of the weekend-orientated special events are tougher to attend and good luck making it to all those soccer games, football games, band concerts, or remembering the anniversary that wound up getting you into a fight with the spouse. To do it all you'll sacrifice something and as usual, it'll be sleep.
The suggestions from research studies have been that when we work against what our bodies know we disrupt the body's natural rhythms. Our bodies become more stressed, our heart rates become more elevated, and many suffer high blood pressure and our natural hormone levels are disrupted as our systems naturally try to cope.
Research also suggests the longer we are working the (perhaps aptly named) graveyard shift or swing shifting between days and nights, we suffer a higher risk of conditions that shorten our lives. Specifically issues with decreased immune systems, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
In the 28 years that I worked the night shift, things I noticed most commonly did include type 2 diabetes. Ten years ago I myself was diagnosed with the disease. Periodically I began to suffer blood pressure issues, eventually evolving into suffering from tachycardia. Knowing the effects that my life was having on my health and wellness I started trying to fix things. First I tried to get back into working out and developing an exercise regiment. I found that by the time I got into it, my metabolism had already slowed to the point running and lifting weights the way I used to would not burn off the fat cells and my midsection was as stubborn as that of a fifty-year-old man.
The years of trying to be a father, sleeping only a couple of hours in the early part of the day and a nap at night, had taken their toll on me. Looking back over the information that's now available, it's true that profound sleep deprivation leads to decreased cognitive abilities, poor decision-making, and a lack of ambition. When we think about doing the right thing, preparing a good healthy meal over the ease and convenience of fast foods or cheap snacks, being too exhausted to care about much isn't going to work in your long-term favor. Failing to properly prioritize sleep is the culprit, finding balance is the cure.
Causes of obesity from the night shift are harder to understand. I'll admit that for years I felt like I was busy enough and ate a lower calorie diet often enough that I should have lost weight. But, our stress hormones go crazy when we work against our body's clock, which I was constantly doing. This alone can lead to unwanted weight gain. Then, our hormones and confusion in our systems can make us feel hungry when we aren't. Because of a lack of sleep all of the chemicals in our bodies, like the ones that tell us we feel hungry or full, simply get out of whack. Try having your doctors look at your leptin levels. If it's out of whack your body doesn't send your brain the signal to tell you you're full.
When we are stressed we burn less fat, or bodies wanting to burn sugar and glucose. Stress changes the ways our thyroid and other glands work together with our cortisol levels.
While there's tons of suggestions and information out there for people on a third shift or night shift schedule, since getting off of night shift, getting out of my comfort zone, and having a normal schedule of sleep, my healths' been better, my diabetes is far more controlled, my immune system has improved enough that when I had the covid-19 virus I didn't know it until a blood test later confirmed I had anti-bodies. It's a staunch change from the two or three years before making the change when I would catch every bug going around, suffer stress headaches, would have regular chest pains, no energy, and high blood pressure. After reading the releases of the studies, by no means do I think the third shift isn't doable. I definitely could have done better. But, pay attention to the diet, prioritize that sleep schedule, make sure your family understands what your body and mind are going through, and make time for yourself.
Studies and so-called scientific suggestions vary on whether it shortens your life or not and what the averages are. After reading a few I'm not going to do the math. Oops, too late. Simple math isn't lost on me yet and now that done the math I better go get some exercise. If it's true that you lose 1 year for every 3 you spend on nights my number of good years is shorter than I'd like.