circadian rhythm

  1. Time to quit your night job

    Love the night life? It ain't loving you back. In fact, it's killing you -- and I'm not talking about a night out drinking, smoking and playing cards with the guys.

    All that's downright healthy if you do it right -- but there's nothing healthy about a steady night job other than the paycheck.

    Shift work can give you cancer, obesity, heart disease, sleep disorders (obviously), stress problems and more -- and now, the latest research finds it'll up your odds of type 2 diabetes, too.

    And you don't even need to work the night shift full-time to face that last one, because a new look at data on nurses finds that just three nights a month is all it takes.

    A single year of even that limited night duty boosted the odds of diabetes by 5 percent -- and while that may sound small, it didn't stay small.

    After three years, the risk hit 20 percent... 40 percent after a decade... and 58 percent among women unlucky enough to spend two decades working at least three nights a month.

    The study didn't go into the hows and whys, but all the usual suspects apply: People who work at night don't just have lousy job hours -- they get lousy sleep, eat lousy food and have lousy habits.

    And beyond that, the human body simply wasn't designed for the life of a vampire. When you throw your circadian rhythm out of whack, your hormones follow -- and all those off-schedule ups and downs can have a devastating effect on your entire biology.

    Bottom line here: Don't just get a good night's sleep -- make sure that good night's sleep actually happens at night.

  2. Don't quit your day job: Nightshift linked to cancer

    It may be time to take the term "graveyard shift" literally. A new study has re-affirmed the old medical suspicion that night work can shorten your life. And before you write off this story as something that should only concern night watchmen and cab drivers, you should know that fully 20 percent of the working population of developed countries earns their living at night. As hard to believe as it sounds, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization, is actually going to add night work to its list of probable carcinogens. This concern is nothing new, though. The medical suspicions about the potentially deadly side effects of night work have been around for more than a generation.

    Richard Stevens, a professor at the University of Connecticut Health Center, was the first to see a link between the night shift and cancer. He developed his theory while searching for an answer as to why the incidence of breast cancer in women suddenly spiked in the 1930s, when industrialization made a round-the-clock labor force one of the hallmarks of a successful economy. Of course, many doctors and researchers thought that Professor Stevens's theory was, well ... a little nutty.

    But it turns out that he was probably right. The reason? The hormone melatonin. Melatonin is a powerful ally in the body's fight against tumor development, and it's usually produced by the body at night. The theory is that night work causes such disruption in your circadian rhythm that it short-circuits melatonin development, opening the door for all manner of nasty, lethal cancers.

    There are skeptics who say that the WHO's "probable carcinogen" qualification just means that the night work/cancer link is possible. But if you ask me, this newest study is merely the latest in a long line of respected research that has made the same connection. And to me, this reveals a very strong link. If you're a nine-to-fiver who's about to stop reading because you don't think this has anything to do with you, you may just want to stick around for a few more sentences...

    What's true for shift workers who are awake in the middle of the night is equally true for ANYONE whose sleep is continually disrupted - including insomniacs and frequent business travelers. If you've ever said, "This jet lag is killing me," this study proves that you may be more right than you think.

    If you ask me, it's more than just a melatonin deficiency at work. If you've ever done any night work, you know how unnatural and disorienting it can be. I certainly don't miss my days as a resident, when midnight-to-eight a.m. shifts were common. With the possible exception of certain teenagers, humans are simply not nocturnal animals. Your body's natural rhythms are delicate and easily disrupted, and this disruption can lead to the breakdown of critical functions. Certain bodily processes like cell division and DNA repair happen at regular times.

    And anyone knows that not getting enough sleep makes your immune system vulnerable, making it just as tough for your body to do battle with potentially cancerous cells as with the common cold. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a cure-all for the night workers' potentially deadly predicament. Many of my colleagues say that it is imperative that night workers sleep in a darkened room once they get home from work to help maintain the body's light/dark balance.

    I have a suggestion of my own: Don't quit your day job. Turns out it's good for you.

  3. Don't quit your day job: Nightshift linked to cancer

    A new study has re-affirmed the old medical suspicion that night work can shorten your life.

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