Shift Work Fatigue: Why Your Ability To Cope, May Be Influenced By Your Genes.

Have you ever noticed how some of your workmates seem to have this amazing ability to cope with working 24/7 ?  In other words, no matter how much time you invest in eating well, exercising and resting, your colleagues seem to be able to “bounce back” from ongoing and relentless sleep deprivation way better than you?

It kind of makes us a little jelly jealous don’t you think?!

But there could be a valid reason for this, and it may be due to your genes.

Now of course I’m not referring to the denim variety of “jeans”, but rather our “genes”, which make you the person that you are.

Genes are made of a chemical called DNA, which is short for ‘deoxyribonucleic acid’ and is comprised of two long, thin strands twisted around each other similar to a spiral staircase, just like the image above.

Our genes contain the information our bodies need to make proteins, which form the structure of our bodies, as well play an important role in the processes that keep us alive – so yes, they’re super important.

But what have our genes got to do with our ability to handle shift work?

Well in a study published in the journal – Sleep, a group of Finnish workers were analysed to determine if there were any genetic risk factors that highlighted an intolerance to shift work.

And the results were surprising.

The study, which was undertaken over a 12 month period, involved over 400 shift workers from two Finnish shift working groups – airline workers and nurses.  The results from the study indicated a variation in the melatonin receptor 1A (MTNR1A) gene, was linked to the job-related exhaustion experienced by shift workers.

This variation in the melatonin 1A (MTNR1A) gene, leads to a weaker signal of melatonin being produced in the brain, a hormone which is necessary to trigger sleep.

So whilst our chronotype can be an influential factor in how we tend to cope with working 24/7, which is a person’s propensity to sleep at a particular time of the 24-hour period, and plays a significant role in determining whether we’re a “morning” or “night” kind of person – our genes can also be an important factor too.

It may definitely provide some new insights into why some people are better adapted to shift work than others, given ongoing sleep deprivation and continual disruption to our daily rhythms forms a huge part of working 24/7.


US National Library of Medicine 2017, What is a gene?, Genetics Home Reference.

Sulkava S, Ollila HM, Alasaari J, Puttonen S, Härmä M, Viitasalo K, Lahtinen A, Lindström J, Toivola A, Sulkava R, Kivimäki M, Vahtera J, Partonen T, Silander K, Porkka-Heiskanen T, Paunio, T 2016, ‘Common genetic variation near melatonin receptor 1A gene linked to job-related exhaustion in shift workers’, Sleep, vol. 40, no. 1, pp. 1-10.


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