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Shift work health risks may linger after workers return to regular schedules

Shift work increases your risk of health issues, such as diabetes and heart disease. A new study shows that even when you return to a regular schedule, elevated health risks may continue. Get the details including what you can do to help reduce those risks in this episode of NewsMD's "Health Fusion" with Viv Williams.

Shift work can disrupt your body's internal clock.
Shift work can disrupt your body's internal clock. Getty Images
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ROCHESTER, Minn. — If you do shift work, listen up. A study shows people who do shift work have an increased risk of health problems, such as diabetes, heart attack cancer and stroke. And those risks may continue after workers return to regular schedules.

Why? Because changing sleep cycles confuse you body clock. The research from Texas A&M University shows that the negative effects of shift work may be long-lasting.

“Shift work, especially rotating shift work, confuses our body clocks and that has important ramifications in terms of our health and well-being and connection to human disease,” says Dr. David Earnest, a professor of neuroscience and experimental therapeutics. “When our internal body clocks are synchronized properly, they coordinate all our biological processes to occur at the right time of day or night. When our body clocks are misaligned, whether through shift work or other disruptions, that provides for changes in physiology, biochemical processes and various behaviors.”

Since most shift workers go back to normal schedules after five to eight years, the researchers wanted to find out if that’s long enough to erase problems that may have been caused by changing sleep cycles. They found that the health impacts of shift work do persist over time and never truly returned to normal.

Shift workers aren’t the only ones with this issue. People who regularly stay up late on weekends can disrupt their body clocks.

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To avoid some of these health hazards, the researchers suggest people try to keep sleep and meal times as regular as possible, exercise regularly, avoid high-fat foods, limit alcohol and don’t smoke.

The study is published in the journal Neurobiology of Sleep and Circadian Rhythms

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Follow the  Health Fusion podcast on  Apple,   Spotify and  Google podcasts. For comments or other podcast episode ideas, email Viv Williams at  vwilliams@newsmd.com. Or on Twitter/Instagram/FB @vivwilliamstv.

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