As you pull the covers over you head, others are ready to pull an all-nighter. Millions of Americans are on their way to work (or gearing up to pull an all-nighter at home) when you settle down to get your beauty sleep.If you are a night owl, your mindset might have adapted to this different lifestyle. But the downside? Your body may still be taking a beating.
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Working at night for just a year or two can increase your diabetes risk 5 percent. Night shifts accumulating over 10 to 19 years can increase that risk to 40 percent. And working for over 20 years at night tips your diabetes-risk scale to a whopping 60 percent, according to recent analyses of two Nurses’ Health Studies.
A new study in the Neurobiology of Disease found a link between disrupted biological clocks in fruit flies and premature death. Even though the research only included fruit flies, the data still apply to people. Disrupted sleep cycles suppress melatonin, making the World Health Organization label shift work a “possible carcinogen.”
Another occupational hazard of being up all night? Unhealthy eating, which (in addition to obesity) may eventually lead to diabetes (about 17 years down the road), heart disease (typically 25 years later), cancer (35 years later) and brain dysfunction (after about 40 years). It’s not too late in life to reverse those scary effects by making tonight an early-to-bed night. If possible, you may want to consider taking on daytime shifts, because night workers fall into dangerously poor eating habits. For one, getting food on-the-go means you have to plan ahead to resist fried fast-food and candy bars that call out from vending machines around every corner. For those who fall for these at-your-fingertips food felons, your weight and diabetes risk can rise.
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Even if you’re eating the same amount of calories as your non-night worker friends, the odds may still be against you! The study out of Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine found that those hitting the hay at 3:45 a.m. had more fast food and soda—with fewer fruits, vegetables and hours of sleep—than those who went to bed at 12:30 a.m.
Timing may make a difference: Late sleepers consumed more food at dinner and after 8 p.m.Researchers find similar confusing patterns in mice. Sleep-deprived mice gained 50 percent more weight than the well-rested mice—even though they ate and exercised the same amount!What’s the deal? Altered circadian rhythms can disrupt metabolism, appetite, blood sugar levels and insulin resistance, making it harder than outracing a Ferrari (don’t try) to maintain weight with a compromised sleep cycle.
Luckily, there are tons of things you could do, in tandem with your work environment. Pack healthy snacks to keep you alert and energetic (we’ve got a great list here!). Even making vending machines and cafeterias carry only healthy (and low-priced) foods can help.
The Cleveland Clinic took such measures. In 2007, Dr. Mike’s institution emptied the vending machines of snacks with high levels of sodium and any trans or saturated fat. Later, they removed most of the rest of the food felons from their dining facilities, such as candy, chips, cakes, muffins, donuts and sugary drinks. Nurses, doctors and staff who need a jolt of energy can turn to nourishing energy, rather than get a quick sugar spike that’d only make them crash later.
The message to employers: Investing in healthy food options for your staff fosters productivity now—and lives later.And if you’re a night owl of your own accord, do the same to your fridge!
QUIZ: Do You Have a Healthy Lifestyle?