Sleep deprived, overweight shift workers at higher risk for diabetes: Study

New university-based research claims employees such as nursing home caregivers, factory and shipping workers who work outside normal 9 a.m.-5 p.m. schedules could be suffering a disproportionate share of serious sleep- and weight-related health problems.

In a new study published in Sleep Health, the journal of the National Sleep Foundation, researchers say shift work could be a major culprit in socioeconomic-related health disparities. Study authors from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health say shift workers outside 9-5 schedules tend to be overweight and have chronic sleep deprivation issues — conditions that have been linked to serious metabolic health problems such as Type 2 Diabetes.

Researchers conclude that “improved understanding of the relationship between sleep and metabolic states can inform healthcare providers' and employers' efforts to screen high-risk individuals and intervene with workplace wellness initiatives to address these disparities.”

Lead investigator and Associate Scientist Marjory Givens, Ph.D., noted that shift workers are “particularly vulnerable” because they are forced to work night, flex, extended or rotating shifts. Demographically speaking, shift workers overall are typically men, minorities and individuals with lower levels of completed education, according to the study.

Researchers performed a cross-sectional study on 1,600 participants in the four-year Survey of the Health of Wisconsin who were employed and reported work characteristics (traditional schedule or shift work), sleep habits and history of sleep problems (insomnia, insufficient sleep, wake time sleepiness). Among the results: Shift workers were more overweight than traditional schedule workers (83% vs. 71% with a body mass index greater than or equal to 25) and reported more sleep problems, such as insomnia symptoms (24% vs. 16%), insufficient sleep (53% vs. 43%), and sleepiness (32% vs. 24%), according to the study.