Heart Smart Living
Heart Smart Living

Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.

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Shift Work Takes a Toll on Heart Health

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We may be a 24-7 society, but no matter how hard we try, our bodies are designed to awake in the morning and sleep at night. Nevertheless, hospitals, 24 hour supercenters, janitorial companies, international conglomerates with bases around the globe, manufacturing plants, and a host of other businesses keep the lights on day and night. With a tight job market, many people are now willing to take on schedules that a few years ago would have been out of the question.

In my practice as a cardiologist, it’s not unusual for someone to drag themselves in for a morning appointment right after finishing up the night shift. It’s a rare individual who suffers no consequences of daily all-nighters. High blood pressure, irregular heart rates, irritability, overeating, and gastric disorders are all common consequences of staying up all night. Understandably, relationships and family life often suffer, too.

A team from Ontario’s Western University evaluated the medical literature to get a better handle on what exactly this type of erratic shift work can do to cardiovascular health. After analyzing the findings of 34 medical studies which included over 2 million individuals, the researchers reported that night shift work raised the risk for heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems by more than 40 percent.  The risk was higher than average even when unhealthy habits were factored in. Other studies have found a greater risk for breast cancer in women who regularly work the night shift.

If you’re a night shift worker, you may not be in a position to change your situation at the moment, but you can do everything else possible to ensure good health. Create a time and a quiet place to get at least seven hours of sleep whenever possible. Resist the temptation to lounge in front of the TV and snack when you are awake. Instead, make exercise and a healthy diet a part of your commitment to good health. And whenever possible, request a transfer to the day shift.

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Tags: Risk Factors for Heart Disease

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About the Author


MD, FACC

Dr. Samaan is an acclaimed cardiologist, writer, and heart health educator.

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