As a nurse that worked the night shift basically permanently for 6 years, this new research based upon Norwegian nurses, makes me pretty nervous. There has been speculation for ages that working nights is not good for your health, and clearly being sleep deprived lowers your immune resistance, but for the last ten years there has been loads and loads of research showing that working night shifts can increase your cortisol levels (which increase with a stress response) and insulin levels, leading to an increased risk of diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. None of this is good, especially because healthcare is a 24 hour field, just like many other fields, such as police work, and other emergency services, pilots, etc.
What was the newest research?
Unfortunately, ladies, this one hits close to home for us. Around 50,000 female nurses were studied, over a course of 17 years, looks for rates of breast cancer directly associated with night work. The findings were pretty scary, considering how many night shifts the average RN works! Nurses that worked around less than 4 night shifts a month had a minimal increased risk of breast cancer, and even nurses with 30 years working in hospitals (where we are exposed to radiation and chemotherapy agents) were at a minimal risk. Nurses that worked five or more years with 4 consecutive night shifts had a much higher rate of breast cancer, and the highest group is nurses with 5 or more years of working with 6 consecutive nights of working.
What does this mean?
I’ll be honest with you, 6 night shifts in a row would make anyone feel completely gross, and more than a little off your game. But it appears that the number of consecutive night shifts worked, is what has the biggest effect on you, which makes sense, right? Most people do not sleep normally during the daytime, because we aren’t supposed to, so people medicate themselves to sleep, watch TV, or are just like me and just power through on only 3 hours of sleep. Not only is this totally not a normal way to go through life, but it really isn’t healthy. Just like when people who work during the day (in any job) have to work long hours for a few weeks, or have added stress at work (or at home), when it is over, you “crash” and catch up on sleep. People who work nights a lot mess with their bodies normal rhythm and it has obviously huge effects on our ability to sleep normally (even when not working), our immune system, and obviously our long term health as well.
Now, everyone cannot stop working overnight shifts in every field, or our world would turn to chaos and patients in the hospital would not be very happy (to say the least) but these are really dramatic results and I think that they are something that we should be cognizant of and keep in the back of your mind. Go to see your HCP and get check ups, do SBE’s (self breast exams), and be aware of the effects that staying up all night might have on you. Those shifts might get you some extra cash, but at what cost?
Just be aware of the effects of long term sleep and poor health outcomes, and try to live as healthy a lifestyle as possible; this study hit home for me, but whether you are a man or woman, working nights, or just odd hours, think about what might be happening to your body in the long term and how you can hopefully offset the bad with and otherwise healthy lifestyle. So get some sleep, eat something healthy, and get some exercise!
Yours in Good Health