It’s the kind of thing that might keep you up at night if you weren’t already working the night shift. Researchers have found that working nights is associated with an increased risk of heart problems.
An international team of researchers analyzed a database with health information on more than 280,000 people in the United Kingdom and found nighttime workers more often developed atrial fibrillation, or A-fib. That’s a potentially life-threatening condition that often causes an irregular heartbeat. Scientists also found an association with heart disease.
The risk went up the longer study participants worked the night shift during their lifetimes. Those night shift hours were defined as any work hours outside the 9 a.m.-to-5 p.m. norm. The higher risk held true even when the data were adjusted for factors that can cause cardiovascular trouble, including smoking, diet, blood pressure and weight, among other things.
The heightened risk was substantial — a 22% increased risk of A-fib for people who worked three to eight night shifts a month for a decade or more. That’s compared with folks who worked during the day. Heart disease risk rose as high as 35 percent.
Women who worked the most time on the night shift appeared to fare much more poorly. The study shows their risk of A-fib went up a remarkable 64% compared with day workers.
One way to help avoid problems appears to be physical activity. Researchers found that 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of intense activity, lowered the risk.
Exercise is always a good idea. It’s a great idea if you work the graveyard shift.