April 2012

Night Shift Workers at Greater Risk of Diabetes

Altering natural circadian rhythms can lead to a decrease in insulin

Working the night shift doesn't just put you out of touch with the majority of the world. Staying awake to work while most people are peacefully asleep might be an alienating and lonely experience, but scientists have recently discovered that it can have more concrete negative effects on your health, too. Namely, workers assigned to the graveyard shift have a much higher risk of diabetes than people who get to work during daylight hours. 

Researchers at Harvard Medical School slowly weaned test subjects off a normal night's sleep by shifting their sleep periods forward four hours at a time. By the time they got them sleeping during the day and staying awake all night, they were able to monitor their hormone levels to discover something surprising. Participants had much lower levels of insulin than normal after just three weeks in the lab. Their glucose levels began to rise. Three of the 21 subjects had blood sugar levels high enough to qualify them as pre-diabetic. Their pancreases just weren't working as they were supposed to.