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New Study Looks at Role of Lifestyle in Shift Work 

17 Aug, 2023 F.J. Thomas

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Sarasota, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – Some studies have suggested that variable work shifts, especially night shifts, are associated with an increased risk of heart issues, regardless of a genetic predisposition. Multiple studies have also shown an association of long-term shift work with health issues, as well as insomnia. While the effects of shift work on both physical and mental health have been well documented, what has not been well studied is whether lifestyle choices are strong enough to mediate the damaging effects of working shifts.  

In a recent study, researchers from the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China analyzed data from the UK Biobank survey to determine if shift work was associated with depression and anxiety, and if so did lifestyle influence those associations. The researchers reviewed the demographics on 175,543 employed or self-employed workers, taking into consideration their lifestyle demographics including BMI, dietary characteristics, smoking, physical activity, sedentary time, sleep duration, and alcohol consumption. The researchers tracked years of employment, hours worked per week, shifts worked, and the frequency and length of shifts worked. The researchers also noted if the worker’s jobs required heavy physical labor, and if they were walking or standing during their shift.  

According to requirements in the UK Biobank survey, shift work is outside the normal daytime working hours of 9am to 5pm, and that may involve working in the afternoon, evenings, or rotating through those hours. Night shift is classified as work during normal sleeping hours, which is categorized as 12 am to 6am. 

The average age of the participants was 52.6. A little half were male, and 95.4 percent were White adults. A total of 16.2 percent of workers reported shift work. Those participants that reported shift work were more likely to be male, from a minority racial and ethnic group. Additionally, those that reported shift work were more likely to have jobs that required more walking or standing, more manual labor, but less education, less healthy lifestyle, and less social interaction. 

Overall, the researchers found that shift work was significantly associated with rates of depression and anxiety, and risk was positively associated with shift frequency. The researchers found that BMI, smoking, sedentary time and sleep duration partially mediated the association between shift work and depression and anxiety. 

The researchers did not see an association between years on the job and increased risk for mental health issues, and speculated that this could be due adjustment to schedule, as fatigue is more often seen at the beginning of shift rotations. Additionally, they saw no difference in the risk of depression or anxiety between night shift and non-night shift, which is inconsistent with some previous studies. 

The researchers stated that the results suggested that the associations of shift work with anxiety and depression could be partly explained by smoking, sleep duration, and BMI and that the risk of depression may additionally be explained by sedentary time. Based on that, the researchers speculate that modifying lifestyle could potentially reduce the levels of depression and anxiety reported by shift workers. 

The researchers are of the position that shift work could be considered an occupational hazard. The researchers believe that the results of the study support the need for more research and promotion of healthy lifestyles as a means of improving mental health in shift workers. 112


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    About The Author

    • F.J. Thomas

      F.J. Thomas has worked in healthcare business for more than fifteen years in Tennessee. Her experience as a contract appeals analyst has given her an intimate grasp of the inner workings of both the provider and insurance world. Knowing first hand that the industry is constantly changing, she strives to find resources and information you can use.

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