Night shift workers may be at increased risk of health effects including atrial fibrillation and coronary heart disease, according to a new study from researchers at Jiao Tong University and Tulane University.
These two diseases negatively affect the heart: atrial fibrillation is an abnormal heart rhythm that can trigger serious health issues such as blood clots, stroke, and heart failure — and coronary heart disease happens when there’s damage in the heart’s major blood vessels.
The study followed nearly 284,000 participants with an average follow-up length of 10 years. According to the findings, those who worked night shifts on a usual basis had a 12 percent higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation as those who worked during the day.
That number was higher for those who worked night shifts throughout their career, around 18 percent. Individuals who’ve worked a high volume of night shifts over time, an average of three to eight a month for at least a decade, are 22 percent more likely to develop atrial fibrillation than day workers.
The likelihood becomes even more drastic for female workers. For women who have worked night shifts for more than 10 years, their risk is 64 percent compared to day workers.
The study also revealed a link between coronary heart disease and night shift work. Current night shift workers are 22 percent more likely to develop the disease than day time workers, with percentages going up to 37 percent for those who have worked night shift for at least 10 years, and 35 percent for those who average three to eight night shifts a month over their career.
How to keep workers healthy around the clock
The best way to protect workers is to motivate them with healthy habits.
Encourage workers to schedule time for exercise. Due to the nature of night shift work, workers may not get enough physical activity as their daytime counterparts.
Those who reported 150 minutes per week of moderate activity, 75 minutes or more of vigorous activity, or an equivalent amount had a lower risk of heart conditions than those with non-ideal physical activity.
If possible, rotate shifts between workers to reduce the frequency of night shift or cut down shift duration. Implementing a medical surveillance program can also be a great way to stay on top of any health issues among employees.
“Although a study like this cannot show a causal link between night shifts and atrial fibrillation and heart disease, our results suggest that current and lifetime night shift work may increase the risk of these conditions,” co-author Yingli Lu of the Jiao Tong University School of Medicine said in the release of the study.
“Our findings have public health implications for preventing atrial fibrillation. They suggest that reducing both the frequency and the duration of night shift work may be beneficial for the health of the heart and blood vessels.”
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