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Surprising Science

Night Shift Work Elevates Risk of Death Among Nurses

Those who work inconsistent work hours may be hurting their health. Recent data revealed nurses who worked the night shift for five years, their risk of death from cardiovascular disease shot up to 19 percent.

New research shows that people working inconsistent hours could be damaging their health, and researchers can’t pinpoint what internal mechanisms are causing the damage.

Amy Nordrum from the Smithsonian reported on the study, which was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Researchers complied the data from the Nurses’ Health Study, using information from 75,000 American nurses working over a 22 year period. It revealed that in most cases the participants working in rotating shifts were more likely to die during the course of the study.

Nurses who worked rotating shifts for five years increased their risk of death from any cause by 11 percent, and death from cardiovascular disease shot up to 19 percent. Those who worked in rotating shifts for 15 years or more had a 25 percent increase of dying from lung cancer, but no risk of death from other cancers increased significantly enough to be noted.

In part, the data is understandable, we aren’t nocturnal creatures, and a night shift goes against our biology of when our bodies feel we should be asleep and feel we should be awake. It disrupts our circadian rhythms.

Researchers are still trying to find out what internal mechanisms are at work that allow such detrimental changes to occur in our bodies. However, it’s worth noting that the World Health Organization has gone so far as to classify working the night shift as a possible carcinogen, a declaration it made in 2007. Perhaps companies should start thinking of night shift work as a short-term occupation rather than a career.

Read more at Smithsonian

Photo Credit: Shutterstock


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