Shift Work Increases the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Sripathi R. Kethu, M.D. FACG.

By Sripathi R. Kethu, M.D. FACG.

Shift work or irregular working hours has been implicated as a major risk factor in a number of health issues. These include:

  • Cardiovascular disorders
  • Sleep Disorders
  • Obesity
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Digestive disorders
  • Depression

But now, working irregular hours is being associated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes as well.

Why Does Shift Work Negatively Impact Health?

Shift Work Increases the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Irregular hours – working different shifts as opposed to a strict 9 to 5 routine – can significantly impact your health. This health risk is more acute than ever considering the 15 million people in America alone who work in jobs which require irregular hours.

These hours can affect a person in a number of ways:

  • Sleep Deprivation: Achieving good quality sleep is essential to good health. Shift workers find this more difficult as their schedule may alter drastically throughout a working week. This stops the body from being able to reach deeper stages of sleep so that the body and mind can be rejuvenated. Such sleep deprivation has been associated with increased mortality.
  • Isolation: Studies have shown that being social decreases the likelihood of early mortality. Working irregular hours can significantly impact a person’s ability to see friends and family regularly. Without this, isolation can occur leading to mental health issues and other complications.
  • Poor Diet: This is a huge contributor to a range of diseases including heart disease and cancer. A diet which is not well balanced and full of fruit, vegetables and wholegrain can negatively affect a person’s health. Working erratic hours increases the likelihood that a person will gravitate towards fast and processed foods which are quicker and easier than cooking a homemade meal when tired, but have been linked to disease.
  • Bio-Rhythms: The human body has several naturally occurring biological rhythms such as circadian rhythms. These regulate the body through periods of rest, and periods of low or high awareness. With regularly changing hours, a shift worker can be fighting against these natural rhythms, altering them in a way which can negatively affect the body’s ability to heal itself and carry out normal processes.

How Do Irregular Hours Increase Diabetes Risk?

How Do Irregular Hours Increase Diabetes Risk

As we can see, shift work can significantly impact health, but what’s interesting is that each of the above factors can contribute to the development of diabetes by themselves. Shift work or irregular working hours seem to bring about a perfect storm of factors which will increase diabetes risk by up to 42%. A staggering figure.

Can These Effects Be Reduced?

People have to work. And some forms of employment will have more risks than others. That being said, shift work is commonplace, and not always avoidable if you want to pay your bills and keep a roof over your head.

By knowing the associated risks, shift workers may be able to alter their routines in order to avoid them. An effective remedy could include:

  1. Dedicating yourself towards an exercise program.
  2. Make an effort to increase your overall amount of sleep. You can include extra naps and try to sleep for longer time periods.
  3. Make sure that the light in your workplace is bright enough.
  4. Reduce the amount of shift changes in order for your body’s biological clock to have a longer period to adapt to working night shift.
  5. Eliminate sound and light disruptions in your bedroom while sleeping during the day.
  6. Caffeine should only be taken at the beginning of your shift to enhance performance during the night. In case you have difficulty falling asleep during the day, and everything else fails, consult your health care provider to find out if using prescribed, short-acting sleep aids is an option for you, to promote sleep in the daytime.

Do you work shifts? How have you tried to counter the negative health issues? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.


Sripathi R. Kethu, M.D. FACG.

Sripathi R. Kethu, M.D. FACG.

Dr Kethu is a practicing Gastroenterologist. He is a healthcare and real estate entrepreneur. He writes frequently on topics related to health care, healthy living, and physical fitness. He is the author of Amazon’s best-selling book, “The IBS Guide”. He is an avid marathon runner and is on track to finish his 100th marathon in 2024.

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