Night Shift and Hormone Disruption:

What exactly happens to our hormones when we work 24/7?

I think we can all agree that night shift is pretty tough, actually let’s not sugar coat it, it’s incredibly tough.

Considering human beings, or more specifically shift workers, are the only creatures on the planet to completely disobey their biological clocks, it’s no wonder we struggle to function at 2am in the morning.

In fact, night shift feels a bit like driving around on a flat battery.

And no matter how many times we try to recharge this depleted battery, we still wake up feeling like we’ve just gone through the spin cycle of the washing machine – set on high!

We also tend to LOOK like we’ve just been through the spin cycle when we take that first glance in the mirror post night shift too {insert sad face here}.

But why is this so?  What exactly is happening when we stay up through the night?

Well one thing is for certain (which has been proven in countless clinical trials), is that it causes havoc on our hormones.

Hormones are essentially chemical signals or “messengers” that affect the behaviour of various glands and tissues within our body.

They have a really important role to play some of which include:

  • influencing the metabolism of cells
  • assisting in the the growth and development of body parts, and
  • helping the body to achieve homeostasis or balance, which is essential to our health and well-being.

What’s particularly fascinating however, is that our hormones are under circadian control, in other words they are designed to switch “on” and “off” at certain times of the day and night.

Except this doesn’t always happen when we work 24/7.

This is because we endure ongoing exposure to artificial light and eat at odd times of the day, which can induce changes in the functional capacity of our hormones.

In other words, sleep deprivation quite literally throws our hormones out of sync.

Some of the hormones affected include (but not limited too) melatonin, which is reduced as a result of light exposure during night shift and appears to have a major effect on energy metabolism; cortisol, insulin and two of the appetite regulating hormones – leptin and ghrelin.

These disruptions to our hormones can lead to things like insulin resistance, weight gain, reduced energy and a prolonged response to stress.

Not the greatest of news for anyone reading this article right now, but I feel its information which needs to be highlighted and shared.

So please don’t think there’s something wrong with you if you’re struggling to cope with working nights.

There’s a reason why night shift is hard.  Our bodies are not biochemically designed or adapted to work it, and probably never will be.

However that being said, you can certainly improve your resilience by choosing to make your health the number 1 priority – no matter what.  It means making good decisions in regards to what you put into your mouth, how you move and how you sleep every single day, because it’s not what you do occasionally that matters, but what you do on a consistent basis that is going to have the most positive effect.

And the only person who can do this is YOU.

Audra x

 

Reference:
Ulhôa, M, Marqueze, E, Bugos, G & Moreno, C 2015, ‘Shift work and endocrine disorders’, International Journal of Endocrinology, vol. 2015, pp. 1-15.

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