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Night Shift Work Hard on the Heart
Date:3/2/2009

eep/eat schedule for 10 days.

By the study's conclusion, all the volunteers had eaten and slept across all phases of the circadian cycle, as they followed a daily schedule artificially fashioned along 28-hour blocks.

The results: circadian misalignment provoked a drop in levels of the weight-regulating hormone leptin. Plummeting leptin levels could hasten the onset of obesity and heart disease by prompting increases in appetite and decreases in activity, the researchers said.

Furthermore, changes in blood sugar levels and insulin levels also occurred, resulting in impaired glucose tolerance and decreased insulin sensitivity.

In particular, three participants with no prior history of diabetes developed glucose levels that resembled those of pre-diabetic people after eating on the misaligned schedule. Daytime blood pressure levels were also found to be elevated among these volunteers.

The degree of hormonal change was highest when participant schedules were set 12 hours off the normal sleep/wake cycle -- that is, when participants were asked to sleep throughout the day and stay awake through the night.

Yet despite the strength of the findings, Scheer cautioned that more research is needed before drawing too many conclusions.

"First of all, this is an in-laboratory study of short duration," he observed. "So we don't yet know if circadian misalignment has a similar impact in the long run in a real-life setting where people are performing night shift work."

"We also need to look at how different people might respond differently," Scheer noted. "Because shift work typically affects people's alertness levels, and GI functioning, and those who don't cope well with this are likely to drop out. Which means that those who continue with this kind of work might not be so susceptible to such problems, and may be less sensitive to this kind of misalignment. These are all questions for the future."


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