The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has identified that many U.S workers, approximately 41 million, are not getting the recommended amount of sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults sleep seven to nine hours a night. Dr. Sara Luckhaupt, lead author of a new study, reported that night shift workers and those that work more than 40 hours per week are the most likely to get too little sleep; majority getting fewer than 6 hours a night. Night shift workers are 15% more likely to not get adequate hours of sleep when compared to day shift workers.
Working night shifts and sleeping during the day in particular can also disrupt the natural sleep cycle, called circadian rhythm. Insufficient amounts of sleep can result in cardiovascular problems, obesity, diabetes and depression. Sleep deprived workers are more likely to get injured or make mistakes that can cause injury to themselves and their co-workers.
Tips for getting your 7-9 hours every day from Dr. Sara Luckhaupt
- Sleep at the same time every day
- Keep a quiet, dark bedroom that has a regulated temperature
- Use your bed for sleep, not watching television or reading
Shelby Freedman Harris, director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program and the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City commented on a 2010 National Health Interview Survey to assess sleep habits of American workers, stating that; “The results are worrisome and include increased risk of heart attack, stroke, falls, car accidents, poor attention, depression, work absenteeism, irritability and weight gain.”
Tips from Shelby Freedman Harris for Dealing with Unconventional Work Shifts
- Use bright light before and during work hours
- Dim the lights at the end of the work period and wear sunglasses on the way home to mimic later times of the day
- Plan a nap schedule
- Consult a sleep specialist
Too Little Sleep Can Raise Diabetes Risk
The unconventional work day is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to people’s sleep and activity patterns. More people are working longer hours, night shifts and weekends while others are taking continuing education classes at night and still more just making the best of life. While these unconventional choices create situations for people to get the most out of life and increase their opportunities, they can cause a number of health concerns. Sleep deprivation and unconventional sleep patterns have been linked to diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, depression, memory impairment and a weakened immune system.
Studies have shown that people who sleep fewer than 5 hours a night and those that work three or more rotating shifts per month have increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. When sleep declines, normal biological rhythms are disrupted and your body is no longer physically able to maintain homeostasis; homeostasis is the body’s natural regulation process that maintains a stable internal environment. A lack or a disruption of sleep also affects circadian rhythm, the body’s biological clock that regulates sleep patterns and body temperature.
Neuroscientist Orfeu Buxton of Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital conducted a six week study with 21 healthy, well rested volunteers. For the six week period, participants were closely monitored and controlled in their diet, physical activity, sleep patterns and exposure to light. In order to mimic sleep deprivation and rotating work schedules, participants were only aloud to sleep for five and a half hours per day at varying times of the day and night throughout the study.
The findings of the study were enlightening:
- In some cases, blood sugar levels after meals increased to pre diabetic levels because the pancreas stopped secreting insulin.
- Participants’ metabolic rate slowed by an average of 8%. The study participants were on a strict diet and did not gain weight; however, if a typical person’s metabolism dropped by the same 8% rate they would gain 10 to 12 pounds per year.
Metabolic syndrome is combination of factors that promote disease, including elevated blood sugar levels, insulin resistance, inflammation, abdominal obesity and unhealthy levels of blood fats. These factors are fueled by oxidative stress that damages cells in various organs, including; the pancreas, nerves and blood vessels. A lack of sleep increases oxidative stress levels because the body is not in a state of balance and has to work harder during extended hours awake. Metabolic syndrome, a precursor to diabetes and heart disease, is estimated to be present in 22 percent of the U.S. population.