A recent study published October 3, 2011 in The Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism states that shift workers may experience a rise in the stress hormone, cortisol, which can lead to abdominal fat and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
Study on Shift Workers and Stress Hormones
Researchers studied hair samples from 33 shift workers and 89 days workers. (A shift worker is defined as a person who works outside the normal daily working hours.) After testing the hair samples, researchers found that shift workers, especially those under 40 years old, had higher long-term cortisol levels than those who work a traditional day job. High levels of the stress hormone cortisol over a long period of time can lead to easier weight gain, especially in the abdominal area. This type of fat raises a person’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Why Shift Work Increases Stress in the Body
Previous studies have found that shift work can upset a person’s normal balance and place stress on the body through disruptive sleep patterns. Working nights instead of days or other odd hours goes against the body’s natural sleep rhythm and makes it difficult to get quality sleep. One study found that shift workers have lower levels of the hormone serotonin in their brains which may be responsible for their poor quality of sleep. Low levels of serotonin can also cause anxiety, anger and depression and can also affect a person’s ability to maintain a healthy weight. Low-quality sleep places stress on the body, which is one reason why shift workers may have the increase in the hormone cortisol.
How Shift Workers Can Lower their Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
According to Dr. Timothy Morganthaler of the Mayo Clinic of Rochester, MN, one of the best ways for shift workers to ensure quality sleep is to stick to a sleep schedule. Even if your work hours shift, try getting at least 6-8 hours of undisturbed sleep every day. To do this, go off to a quiet part of the house, darken the room and ask others not to disturb you. Other ways to ensure a good sleep is to avoid stimulants like caffeine and nicotine at least 2 hours before bedtime. Try to eat a healthy diet and try to follow a regular exercise routine. Even if you feel tired, exercise will revive the body, lower stress and help you keep off the extra weight.
ScienceDaily: Stress hormones may increase cardiovascular risks for shift workers; 10/3/2011
Mayo Clinic: Shift Work: Improving Daytime Sleep; Dr. Timothy Morganthaler