Shift work link to 'increased risk of heart problems'

shift workers Working night shifts can disrupt the body's clock and lead to health problems

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Shift workers are slightly more at risk of having a heart attack or stroke than day workers, research suggests.

An analysis of studies involving more than 2m workers in the British Medical Journal said shift work can disrupt the body clock and have an adverse effect on lifestyle.

It has previously been linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure and diabetes.

Limiting night shifts would help workers cope, experts said.

The team of researchers from Canada and Norway analysed 34 studies.

In total, there were 17,359 coronary events of some kind, including cardiac arrests, 6,598 heart attacks and 1,854 strokes caused by lack of blood to the brain.

These events were more common in shift workers than in other people.

The BMJ study calculated that shift work was linked to a 23% increased risk of heart attack, 24% increased risk of coronary event and 5% increased risk of stroke.

But they also said shift work was not linked to increased mortality rates from heart problems and that the relative risks associated with heart problems were "modest".

Start Quote

Ensuring workers have a minimum of two full nights sleep between day and night shifts can help people to cope with shift work.”

End Quote Jane White Institution of Occupational Safety and Health

The researchers took the socioeconomics status of the workers, their diet and general health into account in their findings.

No rest

Dan Hackam, associate professor at Western University, London, Ontario in Canada, said shift workers were more prone to sleeping and eating badly.

"Night shift workers are up all the time and they don't have a defined rest period. They are in a state of perpetual nervous system activation which is bad for things like obesity and cholesterol," he said.

The authors say that screening programmes could help identify and treat risk factors for shift workers, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

They add that shift workers could also be educated about what symptoms to look out for, which might indicate early heart problems.

Jane White, research and information services manager at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, said there were complex issues surrounding shift work.

"It can result in disturbed appetite and digestion, reliance on sedatives and/or stimulants, as well as social and domestic problems.

"These can affect performance, increase the likelihood of errors and accidents at work, and even have a negative effect on health.

She said the effects of shift work needed to be well managed.

"Avoiding permanent night shifts, limiting shifts to a maximum of 12 hours and ensuring workers have a minimum of two full nights' sleep between day and night shifts are simple, practical solutions that can help people to cope with shift work."

Ellen Mason, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said the increased risk to an individual shift worker "was relatively small".

"But many Brits don't work nine to five and so these findings becomes much more significant.

"Whether you work nights, evenings or regular office hours, eating healthily, getting active and quitting smoking can make a big difference to your heart health."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    I was a shift worker for 42 years, since I've retired I have had a stroke, have high blood pressure and heart disease. If there is a relationship, I also smoked, was nearly always over weight. We laughingly got paid an ' unsocial hours payment' in our salaries; Maybe we should have had a heart attack and stroke payment as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    Many of these comments appear to come from people who have never worked night shifts. Night shifts are not 6am starts or midnight finishes. Working a pattern of days and nights, the problem is that the loss of normality is not compensated by time off between shifts. Within 2 night shifts, you are back to square one even when working 4 on the trot. I work in a 24 hour sector and nights are a 'must'

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    I work a rolling rota of days lates and nights, and yes my social life is non-existent. I get paid more for nights and lates but where I work there are no canteen facilities after 7pm so on top of disturbed sleep patterns and almost permanent jet lag we have no access to hot food (unless you count take-aways as a valid dietary option).

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    This situation has worsened over many years and will continue as workers rights have & continue to diminish because Unions are now portrayed as the public enemy. Through our jobs me and my husband were part of a union, never had to strike as the Union always ended any dispute thrashing things out with Management, without Gov't & media interference unions can be a good mediator for worker rights.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    Do not tell the Public Sector Unions lest they seek danger money for their members,index linked of course.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.


    Or am I an evil socialist for caring about the people?
    No you do a great job .. £ 26.k P/a for some dossers to sit on their backsides and reap the Benefits System you support, works out at £ 12.50 per hour if it was a 40 hrs shift. TAX FREE
    Not bad shifts also I don't think Gezza comes on the TV until the afternoon so they will get a good nights sleep.. Well done & three cheers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    I think that there should be a reduction in non-essential shift work. Hospitals, police force and emergency services, fair enough but do call centres really need to be open 24/7? I used to do shift work as a customer service adviser in a call centre and most of the calls I got while on night shift were things that could easily have waited until the next morning.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    It's not only working shifts that can make you ill though. I worked in a 9-5 job but was bullied by my boss and ended up diagnosed with a serious illness. I will never know if it was the stress which triggered it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    I worked as a bus driver for 25 years and more often than not no two shifts were the same from one day to the next. Overtime was needed to get a living wage and the legally required one day off per fortnight consisted of a 3pm finish on a Saturday to a 3pm Sunday start. In other words no day off! Health is now ruined and family life destroyed Was it worth it? I think the answer is obvious.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    In which case there should be a tax on shift work. Problem solved. Move on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    Often with this kind of research causality is not clear although it may look obvious.
    One of the reason why shift workers are more prone to heart attacks I can think of is that shift workers may not eat as healthy (who wants to cook a dinner at 4am), also shift workers might do less sports/excercise on average than their from-9-to-5 colleagues.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    directors don't work shifts often.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    You die young and dont draw down your pension.

    But dont worry somebody will be getting a bonus.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    This is of limited significance in comparison to studies, which have shown markedly higher rates of cancer in shift workers, especially women.

    Studies suggest important immune system processes take place during normal night time sleep, and if these are disrupted the results can be disastrous.

    We have not evolved for 24/7 activity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    I did shifts for one year and then packed the job in. Even though it was a job I really enjoyed doing it was the best decision I ever made. Luckily for me I had no problem finding a nine til five. I feel sorry for people who are stuck in shifts nowadays when jobs are so much more scarce.
    Work shouldn't make you ill and shift work definitely does.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    i like many more, worked shift patterns all my life .yes, i have all the symptons stated,thats the thanks we got for our work ethos and comittment,that and a dollop of thatcherism,i'd have preferred a gold watch....

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    LOL - might as well just say "being alive linked to heart attacks"

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    @14 totally agree i foolishly worked shifts for 10 years now i am one of the lucky ones who has a job with more normal hours by all means chase money if you are offshore or in the petrochemical industry where you get longer periods of rest but i suggest the health issues are far higher in lower paid temporary jobs that are becoming the norm in this country

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    "ensuring workers have a minimum of two full nights sleep between day and night shifts" Interesting...

    ...In the ambulance service, when on a "proper" rota we have 4 days off after a night shift, however 1/3rd of the time we work a relief rota. On relief we often work a night shift finishing at 9am, have a "day off" (having already worked 9 hours of our day off) and then work an early at 6am.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    I find these type of studies can be interpreted in any way you like,if you google trivial facts you will come across a website that claims left handed people die seven years younger than right handed,as I work nights and am left handed maybe I should be preparing my farewells.


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