Night shifts, even if they do not cause cancer, have been linked to conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and a heightened risk of obesity. These dangers are both environmental and physical. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) indicated that sleep patterns even affect molecular mechanisms and gene expression, while another study showed night workers have a “heightened preference” for high fat foods. Stress and depression are also common side effects of trying to sleep when the world is awake. Developing psychiatric conditions due to accumulated sleep debt is not uncommon, especially as “things get to a point where [sleep debt] begins to…impact on social function and relationships.”
If it has managed to beat the cancer rap, working at night can nonetheless contribute to a premature death. In a study on the impact of shift patterns published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, a study of 74,862 nurses found that, after 22 years, the nurses who worked on rotating night shifts for more than five years were up to 11% more likely to die early compared to those who never worked these shifts.
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