A recent study out of the Université de Montréal Hospital Research Centre reveals a link between rotating shift work and obesity.
According to a researcher at the university who contributed to the report, Dr. Anne Grundy, there are two theories for why shift workers may struggle more with their weight. The first has to do with the time we eat in relation to the way we metabolize food.
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“The first is that your digestive system has a circadian rhythm, or a biological clock just like your sleep cycle does. One of the things people think might cause shift work to be linked with overweight and obesity is that people who are working rotating shifts might be eating at a time of day that’s out of sync with the rest of their body clock and that could impact the way they’re metabolizing the food, and that could increase the risk of obesity,” explained Grundy.
The second theory had to do with the often erratic sleep cycle of shift workers.
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“Another theory has to do with sleep duration. So people who work shifts tend to have shorter sleep duration than people on a day-oriented schedule. And if you’re not sleeping for as long, we know that having less sleep can be associated with an increased risk of being overweight or obese as well,” Grundy added.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, working rotating shifts is like having “continual jet lag.” The report went on to say that night work or rotating shifts may contribute to health conditions like heart disease or cancer.
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While the findings in this report were taken from a previous study focusing on men in northeastern Ontario, Grundy said that the findings are likely similar for men and women in other locations.
Grundy suggests that workers combat this by eating healthy and maintaining as active a lifestyle as possible while working changing shifts. However, Dietitians Canada offers several tips for people looking to manage both their work schedules and their weight.
Some of these include eating your “main meal” before going to work — as eating large meals during the night can cause heartburn — packing homemade healthy snacks, avoiding fatty or sugary foods, eating slowly, staying well hydrated and consuming less than 400 milligrams of caffeine a day.
In addition to these, Dietitians Canada recommends sticking to a routine on your days off, eating with family, and taking stretch breaks while at work.
Grundy goes on to say that as more data is released about the impact of rotating shift work on employee health, organizations should begin taking this into account when putting together work schedules.
“I think it’s important that organizations consider the potential health effects of their work schedule and start to have that as a factor in their decision,” Grundy said.
She also explains that her specific interest lies in determining whether rotating shift work can be linked to cancer and other diseases. However, she says the research on these links is still conflicted.