Health hazards of "shift work" include diabetes, cancer

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – After losing several hours of sleep, one Region 8 woman said working overnight was one of the most difficult times of her life. A nurse right out of college, Krista Miguet said she lost a lot of sleep for eight years of her life when working overnight.

"I worked 7-7, so I would get up in time to get ready, maybe get something to eat real quick and then head to work. I had to be there by 6:45, so there wasn't a whole lot of extra time because I wanted to sleep as long as I could," said Miguet.

Miguet is one of millions of people who have worked overnight. Many are still working overnight. According to the National Sleep Foundation, shift workers face more health complications as compared to people who work the standard 9-5 job.

"I feel human again. It was definitely, it drains you. It takes everything out of you. You feel like when you're not working, you're sleeping. Even on your days off, you have to sleep to catch up from the week you've just worked," said Miguet, who hasn't had to work a night shift in three and a half years. "It's usually straight home and to bed."

Miguet, who graduated from Arkansas State University, has been working at St. Bernard's AHEC for nine years. She said the first three years of her medical profession, including college, were some of the most challenging.

"Those last couple of days you've been off sleeping, so you're a little more rested the first couple day. But definitely by that 3rd, 4th or 5th day that you've worked that overnight 12 hours, you're dragging," said Miguet. "I was diagnosed with hypertension after I started working nights. It wasn't but maybe a year after I started working nights that I was diagnosed with high blood pressure."

Miguet cheerfully said says she's fortunate. She doesn't work overnight any longer. However, millions of Americans, roughly 8.5 million, perform shift work these days.

Doctor Shane Speights, Assistant Professor of Medicine at UAMS, said some people who work overnight lose approximately 2-3 years off their life expectancy.

"We know for a fact that it's linked to obesity, diabetes, heart disease to elevated blood pressure to mood problems and depression. All kinds of problems," said Dr. Speights. "People at risk of that are police officers, nurses, doctors and flight attendants. We all have run into that problem."

Speights said people who work the night shift or rotating night shifts are more likely to develop diabetes, particularly type 2 diabetes.

"Snacking is more common on the night shift. We know that actually more people that smoke are on the night shift," said Dr. Speights. "Really it's a basic need. Your body knows the normal time for it to be awake is between these hours and when you're not, when you're trying to be asleep during that time and when you're awake in times, your body says you should be asleep. Then your body can't do what it normally does every day."

"It basically gets ready for the next day. It kind of throws the whole system off," said Dr. Speights.

Dr. Speights said there are several studies researchers have performed over the years to show the correlation between health problems and overnight employment. He said while it may be impossible to find a job during the day, people can improve their well being.

"This is going to sound repetitive and you hear this from your doctor all the time, diet and exercise. Big, big deal. We know that diabetes is linked to abnormal cycles and into shift work," said Dr. Speights. "You don't want your ER nurses going home at 5:00 and nobody being in the ER. You don't want police officers going home at 5:00 and nobody being on the streets. Unfortunately, it's a necessary evil for our society."

Speights said there are short term and long term health effects of shift work. Among the short term effects are increased risk of accidents, decreased social life and people just feeling icky. He said the long term effects can vary greatly from increased risk of cardiovascular disease to obesity to even cancer.

Miguet said she feels much better now that she's working a "normal" dayside job.

"At first, it was really hard for me to adjust because I had been on nights for so long. It took me a good six months or more, six, seven months to adjust and finally get on that schedule and realize this is how normal people live," said Miguet. "You're tired all the time. You're whole mood is different. (Now) I can tell now that I'm a different person. I'm able to spend more time with my family."

"That's why I came to a day job and just the whole outlook is better. I get more time with my family and my kids," said Miguet.

Miguet offers some advice to people who have to work the "graveyard shift."

"Get the sleep that you need. There were days when, you know, life still goes on so you have things that you have to do, like going to the doctor or go to the bank. The bank doesn't work on my hours so I have to work on theirs," said Miguet.

Copyright 2011 KAIT. All rights reserved.