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article imageTwo new studies address the physical effects of shift work

By Jenna Cyprus     Sep 9, 2014 in Health
Sleep disorders are fairly common in the U.S. Millions of people, regardless of age, gender, or lifestyle, suffer from disorders such as sleep apnea, insomnia, restless legs syndrome, narcolepsy, and various circadian rhythm disorders.
The number of sufferers in the latter group has increased substantially in recent years, which suggests a potential and larger underlying issue.
Interesting findings of new studies
Ongoing research reveals that shift work may well be a major cause of circadian rhythm disorders. The only problem is that the research being done needs to be expanded dramatically to achieve solid verification of the findings.
In the words of Dr. David Neubauer of the Johns Hopkins Sleep Disorders Center in Baltimore, Maryland, “Considering the large number of people who do shift work, it certainly is unfortunate that minimal research has been performed to offer clinical guidance to address the problems of inadequate alertness or sleepiness.”
Two new studies published over the past few weeks have offered some pretty interesting conclusions, though. The first was conducted by Dr. Juha Liira and colleagues at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Helsinki. They gathered data and results from 15 trials that involved more than 700 participants.
The Finnish study evaluated the effect of hypnotic drugs and melatonin on sleep after shift work. It also analyzed the efficacy of modafinil, caffeine, and armodofanil on sleepiness during the actual work shift.
The overall conclusion was that there is very little evidence to suggest that drugs work well for shift workers. Some participants noted a slight improvement in alertness after taking a nap and caffeine prior to a night shift, as well as better sleep when they used daytime melatonin, but the overall weight of the evidence is regarded as weak at best.
The authors of the study explained, “The evidence was of low quality and mostly from small trials. Both sleep and alertness promoting agents have potentially serious adverse effects. Therefore, we need more trials to determine the beneficial and harmful effects of these drugs.”
A second study conducted by Zuxun Lu, a researcher at Tongji Medical College, suggests a link between shift work and increased risk of diabetes. This study combined data from 12 previously recorded studies and looked for any correlations between shift work and the risk of developing diabetes.
The study used data from more than 225,000 participants taken from 1983-2013. Based on analysis of the data, the researchers believe “the risk of diabetes was increased by 9 percent overall for shift workers, compared to people who had never been exposed to shift work.”
Look for other causes
While shift work is certainly a major factor in negative sleep-related symptoms, it often takes the blame for other conditions.
Instead of automatically assuming that sleep disorders are directly related to shift work and sudden changes in the body’s circadian rhythm, doctors have argued we should analyze other symptoms and look for additional causes. Often, the issue has a medical answer.
As previously mentioned, other common sleep disorders include insomnia, sleep apnea, and restless legs syndrome. Insomnia is characterized by difficulty falling and staying asleep. It’s usually treated by establishing better sleep rhythms and reducing physical, emotional, and environmental interferences.
Sleep apnea involves partially blocked airways and causes the individual to experience brief cessations in breathing. This can be difficult to detect in some individuals, but is highly treatable with new technology.
Restless legs syndrome is fairly common. It inhibits the sufferer from falling asleep due to a strong compulsion to move one’s legs.
Finding the root cause
Shift work is certainly a major factor in sleep disorders, but doctors believe it’s important to consider all the factors before narrowing the focus to a judgment of causality. The shift work excuse may often distract sufferers from finding the true root cause.
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