- Swaminathan Natarajan
- BBC World Service
If you’ve ever had a job with shifting shifts, you probably know that night shifts can make you tired and lethargic, but did you know it can also be bad for your heart?
New research shows the direct cause, and it all has to do with the brain and heart’s ‘circadian body clocks’, which can go out of sync and out of sync due to varying work patterns (between morning, evening and night shifts). ), leaving the heart vulnerable to dysfunction.
This can seriously harm your health.
Asynchronous Cell Clocks
The study, conducted by the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, looked at the internal clock in each heart cell, which changes the cell’s chemical balance throughout the day.
Your body needs your heart to work harder when it’s active, and it does this by making the heart beat faster.
dr. John O’Neill, who led the study, told the BBC: “The frequency of the heartbeat is determined by two things: signals from the brain and the levels of sodium and potassium in each heart cell, which trigger the heartbeat.”
“In healthy people, these myriad cellular clocks synchronize and synchronize with each other,” he added.
But the new study found that with shifts in work hours, the brain adapts very quickly, but the body clocks in every heart cell delay.
“You have a few days when the brain’s signals are out of sync with what the heart expects,” says Dr. O’Neill. “This is what we believe makes shift workers more vulnerable when switching between day and night shifts.”
This increases the risk of several heart conditions, especially during the transition between day and night shifts, although it should be noted that shift work is just one of many other factors that increase the risk of heart problems, including age, gender, family history and diet.
dr. O’Neill said: “There are a number of negative effects that can affect the heart, the most disturbing of which is sudden cardiac death, where the heart goes haywire and stops working for a while. Unless you get medical help, you could die. “.
Fortunately, this scenario is very rare, but working shifts has been found to increase risks associated not only with heart problems, but also with digestive and mood disorders, and increase the risk of cancer in general compared to people who work alone. day shifts.
“The equation scientists are making is that having a turbulent circadian rhythm throughout life, alternating day and night shifts, is equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day,” says Dr. O’Neill.
Some governments recognize the health risks of night shifts, for example in Denmark those who have been on night shifts for more than 20 years and have had cancer are entitled to compensation.
To be fit and healthy, all our biological clocks need to be in perfect sync and in harmony with each other.
To achieve that, it’s best to have a daily routine that includes sleeping, eating, and working at night, but that’s not optional for millions of workers.
Despite this, sleep experts say we can take several practical steps to help reduce the damage night work can do.
“It’s easy for people to slow down the internal body clocks, as well as the master clock in the brain,” says Dr. Renata Reha, a consultant in sleep and respiratory medicine at the University of Edinburgh.
She adds that the ideal arrangement for working in the different and varied periods between day and night is to start with the day shifts, then the afternoon periods and finally the night periods.
It is preferable that the night shifts are at least two weeks apart as this gives the body time to adjust.
“It takes about a week for all the clocks in the body to change, starting with the master clock responsible for releasing melatonin (the sleep hormone), followed by clocks in all the other organs of the body,” says Dr. reha.
She also recommends taking short 20 to 30 minute naps during the nighttime work period.
An average adult needs seven to eight hours of sleep, but not all sleep is created equal in terms of benefit and quality.
Sleeping during the day is often less good, giving the body the much-needed rest.
dr. Reha says night shift workers should try to sleep as soon as they get home.
“Try to sleep in a quiet, cool and dark room. You can use an eye mask if you don’t have sun protection and you can use ear plugs.”
“If your room is warm, consider ways to cool it down, such as using a cooling pillow or a fan, because lowering the temperature will trick your body into thinking it’s time to sleep.”
Exercise and a good, balanced diet can also help, but the most important factor is timing.
Eating and exercising directly affect the clocks throughout the body, through changes in the hormone insulin and body temperature.
We can trick our bodies into accepting the new times by exposing ourselves to light and eating a good enough ‘breakfast’ before the night shift starts, then avoiding food and light during the new ‘night’.
“There are no pills (yet) that can reset our clocks, but when you go from day to night, you just have to change your entire daily routine the day before your first night and then stick to the new routine,” says Dr. O’Neill.
“This allows you to adapt faster and avoid many unwanted side effects.”