Health Effects Of Working The Night Shift – A Cause Of Concern

Ship Underway at NightPhoto by OneEighteen

We have some bad news to report for mates working the 00-04 watch. Like UV rays and diesel exhaust fumes, working the graveyard shift will soon be listed as a “probable” cause of cancer. The Associated Press tells us;

Next month, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the cancer arm of the World Health Organization, will add overnight shift work as a probable carcinogen.

The higher cancer rates don’t prove working overnight can cause cancer. There may be other factors common among graveyard shift workers that raise their risk for cancer.

However, scientists suspect that overnight work is dangerous because it disrupts the circadian rhythm, the body’s biological clock. The hormone melatonin, which can suppress tumor development, is normally produced at night.

If the graveyard shift theory eventually proves correct, millions of people worldwide could be affected. Experts estimate that nearly 20 percent of the working population in developed countries work night shifts.

They continue;

Scientists believe having lower melatonin levels can raise the risk of developing cancer. Light shuts down melatonin production, so people working in artificial light at night may have lower melatonin levels.

Sleep deprivation may be another factor in cancer risk. People who work at night are not usually able to completely reverse their day and night cycles.

“Night shift people tend to be day shift people who are trying to stay awake at night,” said Mark Rea, director of the Light Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, who is not connected with the IARC analysis.

Not getting enough sleep makes your immune system vulnerable to attack, and less able to fight off potentially cancerous cells.

Confusing your body’s natural rhythm can also lead to a breakdown of other essential tasks. “Timing is very important,” Rea said. Certain processes like cell division and DNA repair happen at regular times.

Even worse than working an overnight shift is flipping between daytime and overnight work.

“The problem is re-setting your body’s clock,”

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Have trouble keeping your eyes open on the night watch?  Read our post: How To Stay Awake