April 12, 2024

Certain work shifts can harm your health later in life, research shows

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The immediate disadvantages of an erratic work schedule are obvious: You may be tired all the time or miss time with loved ones.

There may also be more serious long-term consequences, according to new research examining the associations between work patterns in young adulthood and health outcomes later in life.

Multiple studies have shown how irregular working hours can damage overall health and social life, but the new paper looks at the relationship through a ‘life course’ approach, observing how work patterns affect health throughout adulthood rather than at one point in time .

The new report, published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE, defined a standard work schedule as starting at 6 a.m. or later and ending at 6 p.m. An evening work schedule meant starting at 2:00 PM or later until midnight, while night schedules were shifts starting at 9:00 PM or later and ending at 8:00 AM. Participants had “variable” schedules if they worked split or rotating shifts or irregular hours.

“About three-quarters of the work patterns we observed did not strictly correspond to stable daytime work throughout our working years,” said Dr. Wen-Jui Han, the study’s sole author and professor at the Silver School of Social Work. at New York University, in an interview conducted by the magazine.

“This has consequences,” says Han, who specializes in social welfare policy, with an emphasis on children and families. “People with work patterns that involve some degree of volatility and variability were more likely at age 50 to have fewer hours of sleep per day, lower sleep quality, lower physical and mental function, and a greater likelihood of reporting poor health and depressive symptoms than those with stable standard work schedules.”

Han also examined how these associations depended on social position, characterized by race or ethnicity, gender and education.

Despite the challenges of today’s work schedules, health experts say there are strategies people can use to mitigate the negative effects.

To assess shift problems, Han used data from more than 7,300 participants, of whom approximately 50% were white, 33% Black and 19% Hispanic. They were part of the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a nationally representative sample of Americans between the ages of 14 and 22 who were surveyed at various points over time.

Working standard hours early and then moving to casual schedules between ages 22 and 49 was significantly associated with the worst health, Han found. This pattern was also associated with reporting the worst health and depressive symptoms at age 50. The magnitude of the effect was equivalent to being educated only below the high school level, and the effects of volatile work schedules were worse than those of being largely unemployed. .

The study also found race- and gender-related trends, such as Black Americans being more likely to have schedules linked to poorer health and women experiencing lower quality sleep even though they get more hours of sleep.

The report doesn’t fully explain the disproportionate impact on women and Black people, but that finding speaks “to the intersectionality between employment patterns and social position, and underscores the significant health disparities between those with resources and those without resources,” the study said. “Those without benefits disproportionately bear the ill effects of volatile employment patterns.”

The research results are not exactly ‘super surprising’, but they are ‘very current and alarming’, says Dr. Xiaoxi Yao, professor of health care research at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. She was not involved in the investigation.

Due to advances in technology and the gig economy, especially since the pandemic, people are increasingly working nonstandard schedules compared to just a few decades ago, Yao said via email.

“People with higher socio-economic status can enjoy the flexibility of working anywhere and anytime, while people in the so-called vulnerable social positions may have no choice,” Yao added. “We often worry about the wages and benefits of these workers, but this study indicates that the non-standard work schedules and hours may inherently pose risks.”

There are several potential theories that could explain the findings, but the study itself only shows association and not causation, experts said.

“A person may have a number of risk factors that make it difficult to find a stable job and increase the chance of developing a disease,” Yao said. “It is difficult to use the current data to draw a firm conclusion that the work schedules/hours caused the adverse health effects.”

But at the same time, the findings build on a growing body of evidence.

The study results are “in line with what everyone in public health knows, which is that a person’s health outcomes are determined by a host of factors, including the work they have, as the type of work determines their daily routines and, crucially, their earnings and income. so what resources they have access to,” CNN’s Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and adjunct professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, said via email. Wen was not involved in the investigation.

Non-standard schedules can make it difficult to maintain lifestyle habits that are important for good health — such as sleeping well, eating at regular times and spending time with loved ones, said Dr. Azizi Seixas, associate director of the Center for Translational Sleep and Circadian Sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study.

In addition, the financial instability of certain non-standard work can also cause anxiety, Yao said. And if this work involves working independently, the lack of a stable social environment can reduce the sense of belonging and identity.

Sleep researcher Dr. Christian Benedict, who was not involved in the study, noted that the findings may not apply to everyone.

“The research of Dr. For example, Han did not examine people’s natural sleep-wake cycles,” Benedict, an associate professor of pharmacology at Uppsala University in Sweden, said via email. “It is crucial to recognize that working night shifts may be more suitable for people who naturally stay up late than for people who prefer to get up early.”

Changing schedules or jobs to avoid non-standard work hours may not be feasible for some, but you can use other strategies – such as a healthy diet, exercise, relaxation, and spending time with friends and family – to offset the potential harm of work , Yao said.

Additionally, having a certain routine or schedule around that shift can make it easier to engage in those health-promoting activities — especially sleep, Yao added.

Try to optimize your sleeping conditions as much as possible, for example by sleeping in a dark and cool room and asking family members to respect your sleep schedule, Benedict said.

And previous research has shown that not eating late in the evening counteracts the negative health effects of shift work, he added. Be sure to also schedule routine health checks and seek advice from a professional if any persistent health problems arise.

“By integrating these strategies into their daily lives,” Seixas said, “individuals can proactively mitigate the negative effects of nonstandard work schedules on their health and promote overall well-being, despite the constraints imposed by their work patterns.”

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