New research has found that people with high blood pressure who work night shifts have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. According to the Journal of the American Heart Association study, the risk is even higher among people who slept too much or too little when not working.
This new research adds to mounting evidence which suggests an association between shift work and a higher risk for high blood pressure (hypertension), type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease in people who are otherwise healthy. This new study, however, is the first to investigate the role of shift work in the progression from high blood pressure to additional cardiometabolic multimorbidity such as diabetes, coronary heart disease, or stroke.
“Since shift work is increasingly common and hypertension is a leading risk factor for cardiometabolic multimorbidity, it is crucial to clarify the association between shift work and cardiometabolic multimorbidity risks,” said the study’s senior author Dr. Yongping Bai.
For the study, researchers analyzed employment and health data for 36,939 people who were enrolled in the UK Biobank, a large biomedical database of people living in the United Kingdom. Participants were 40 to 69 years old and were followed for an average of 12 years.
Those with high blood pressure who worked night shifts were at a 16% higher risk of developing diabetes, stroke, or heart disease than those working normal daytime hours. Among those participants, those who worked an average of one-to-10-night shifts per month over a lifetime had a 14% higher risk of developing an additional cardiometabolic condition. The risk was even higher for participants who worked more than 10-night shifts per month, at 19%.
Participants sleep quality and habits were also monitored, and it was found that the risk of developing additional cardiometabolic conditions was even higher if night shift workers slept less or more than seven to eight hours a day.
The circadian rhythm is an important part of human physiology, regulating when we are awake and feel the need to sleep. This internal clock is sensitive to light and dark, with brightness acting as a cue to wakefulness and darkness, signaling the body that it is time to rest.
In general, people are designed to be awake during the day and asleep at night, although there can be some variation based on individual preferences and schedules. The circadian rhythm is an important part of maintaining a healthy sleep schedule, and disruptions to this natural rhythm can lead to problems with sleep. People who work night shifts or have other irregular schedules may find it more difficult to get enough restful sleep, leading to fatigue and other health problems.
Based on the study’s outcomes, researchers stress the importance of healthy sleep habits to help reduce the additional risks of shift work. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends maintaining a consistent sleep schedule; sleeping in an environment that is dark, quiet and at a comfortable temperature; removing electronic devices from the bedroom; avoiding large meals, caffeine and alcohol before bedtime; and getting regular physical activity to maximize the chances of getting sufficient, quality sleep.
Future research will focus on whether shift work affects cardiometabolic risks differently based on race, ethnicity, or gender. This focus will be aimed at those who are at higher risk already for cardiovascular diseases, such as black adults, who have disproportionately high rates of high blood pressure.
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