Study sheds light on dangers of working second, third shifts

Marjory Givens, Ph.D.
Marjory Givens, Ph.D.

Workers whose hours fall outside of a traditional 9-to-5 schedule may be more susceptible to sleep- and weight-related health issues, according to a new study from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. 

Researchers found that shift workers' departure from normal sleep/wake cycles, along with fluctuations of physical activity and dietary intake, carry consequences including increased stress, heightened risk of injury and disease and sleep deprivation. Led by Marjory Givens, Ph.D., the study was published in February in Sleep Health, the journal of the National Sleep Foundation.

Among the shift workers whose data was examined, as high as 53% received insufficient sleep, compared to 43% of traditional schedule employees. Additionally, shift workers tend to be more overweight than their daytime counterparts. 

Combined with insufficient sleep, excess weight can increase the risk of metabolic health problems such as Type 2 Diabetes and metabolic syndrome.  

According to the study, workers with “alternate shift” schedules, which are common in healthcare settings, are especially vulnerable to these health problems due to working night, flex, extended and rotating shifts. 

The study noted that shiftworkers are typically men, minorities and people with lower levels of education.