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The effect of night shift on women

With the retail boom and exponential surge in online and e-commerce platforms, jobs in the graveyard shift or night shift, as it is commonly known, have seen a seemingly increasing trend in recent times. Though certain job roles, especially  those pertaining to care giving (doctors and nurses, emergency personnel, cab drivers), have always demanded working in night shifts, the more recent demands of the 24-hour economy have led to this sudden surge in the general job scenario. As a result, there has been a paradigm shift towards white-collar workers from IT, BPO and Retail sectors working in graveyard shifts which was previously dominated by blue-collar workers like factory employees and security personnel. In addition to this, socio-economic reforms encouraging gender equality, equal job opportunity and equal pay have led to an increasing number of women getting involved as part of the nocturnal workforce.

effect of night shift on women

Research Findings:

A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, has revealed that while nurses working in graveyard shift for 6-14 years were at 19% higher risk of mortality due to cardiovascular diseases (CVD), ones working for 15 years or more were at 23% higher risk of mortality due to CVD and 25% higher risk of mortality due to lung cancer [1,2]. Another study conducted by the National Surrey Sleep Research Centre (NSSRC), UK published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, concluded that women working in night shifts are indeed more affected compared to men [3]. A finding published in the journal Sleep Medicine has reported that night shift work increased the risk of breast cancer morbidity by: 1.9% for 5 years, 2.5% for 5-10 years, 7.4% for 10-20 years, and 8.8% for >20-years of night shift work. Additionally, rotating night shift work enhanced the morbidity of breast cancer by 8.9% [4]. Similarly, another research has linked the higher incidence of rectal cancer risk in nurses working in night shifts [5]. Shift work has also been linked to menstrual cycle and pregnancy problems [6] including miscarriages [7]. These findings clearly prove that gender indeed has a prominent role to play in the context of night shift work.

So, let us put our thinking caps on to ponder and discover why.

Effect of night shift on women:

Night shifts usually affect work-life balance due to social stress, work-family conflict, psychological distress and most importantly, it impairs health-related quality of life. Especially, it takes a toll on our health mainly due to the disruption of our body’s circadian rhythm. To elaborate, the circadian rhythm is the body’s internal 24-hr clock which controls various biological processes. It is a natural cycle controlled by human brain which is influenced by light stimulus; it basically connects the external environment with our body. Additionally, our daily activities like eating, sleeping, exercising also affect circadian rhythm. So, it is extremely important to maintain a consistent, healthy circadian rhythm for our overall health, well-being and prevention of certain chronic diseases. [8]

For women, circadian rhythm is strongly linked with the secretion of certain hormones like melatonin, cortisol, thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), prolactin (PRL) which in turn are regulated by their menstrual cycle. This interaction bears a direct correlation with the sleep cycle of women. Further to this, the menstrual cycle is governed by the gonadotropic and sex steroid hormones. [9] Abnormal circadian rhythms have been linked to hormonal imbalance in women. Hormonal misalignment with the environmental light-dark cycle and/or sleep wake cycle interrupts the reproductive pathways in women [6].

Additionally, women also carry the social obligation of family and child care responsibilities [3]. Furthermore, night shift work come with its own set of lifestyle challenges like increased smoking and alcohol consumption, improper diet and reduced physical activity. A combination of all these factors cumulatively increase the health risks of women resulting in various sleep disorders (difficulty in falling asleep, excessive sleepiness during working hours), metabolic disorders (diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension), mental disorders (depression, cognitive deficits), gastrointestinal disorders (ulcers), reproductive disorders and even cancers[10].

Health tips for night shift workers:

While it’s always better to find out a regular shift job, but it might not be readily available or your field of expertise might not provide you with enough scope. So, it is always better to try and modify the present situation to suit yourself.

  • Choose the Right Diet: – It is advisable for night shift workers to choose a light nutritious meal and restrict intake of high calorie foods during midnight to 6 AM. It would be easier on the body’s digestive system.  During daytime, be conscious to have a healthy balanced meal. It is best to avoid caffeine and products with concentrated sugar like carbonated beverages. Instead of coffee, choose green tea or any suitable herbal drink as your mid-night refresher.
  • Make Healthy Lifestyle Choices: – Refrain from substance abuse like tobacco, gutka and alcohol.
  • Establish a Proper Sleep Cycle during Day: – It is extremely important to establish a proper sleep cycle during the day time to realign the circadian rhythm. Scheduled naps before night shift work can have an alerting effect.
  • Include Daily Physical Activity: One must indulge in some kind of physical activity like brisk walking, swimming, strength training as per their convenience everyday for at least 30 minutes to 1 hour. During work breaks as well, one can do some light exercises sitting at their workstation. Another good way of workplace exercise is choosing stairs over elevator.

Women are the backbone of families. So first, they must ensure a good health for their own – and then, the glow of healthy and beautiful life will automatically reflect upon the family.

Guest post written by: Eshani Bhaumik Barui, Food Technologist and Dietitian, YANA Diet Clinic @

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

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