Shift work has long been a subject of study and criticism. Many studies have shown that physiological responses follow what is known as a circadian rhythm. Body temperature is just one aspect that can be predicted by the time of day. While some believe that these rhythms are genetically programmed and activated by social cues, most studies agree that shift work may alter a person’s normal physiological functions.
There is also evidence supporting theories that certain task performance varies over the course of the day. For instance, truck drivers and train drivers are shown to have more accidents at times of day or night that are usually designated for sleep.
More research is suggesting that shift work may have an adverse effect on the person’s health. Dr. L G P M van Amelsvoort of the Netherlands recently published work that suggests shift work may actually be related to specific heart problems.
In recently published material, Dr. van Amelsvoort investigated whether an increased risk of cardiovascular disease might be caused by increased arrhythmogeneity and by unfavorable changes in autonomic cardiac control.
The study found that a change in arrhythmogeneity, but not in cardiac autonomic control, might explain a known increased risk of cardiovascular disease in shift workers.
Some suggest that a possible solution to shift work is to identify those individuals who prefer night work, eliminating a shift between day and night work.
For more information about shift work and cardiovascular disease see the October edition of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.