Graveyard shift may be living up to its name: shift work & nursing health risks

January 14th, 2015 by Julie Ferguson

The night shift is commonly referred to as the graveyard shift and a new study about associated health risks shows that it might be aptly named.

Previously, the World Health Organization has linked working the night shift to cancer, based on studies with nurses. Now, a new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine this month, shows that nurses who worked night shifts over an extended number of years experienced an increase in mortality rates for all cause (11 percent higher) and cardiovascular disease (19 percent higher.) In addition, women who worked rotating night shifts for 15+ years had a 25 percent higher risk of lung cancer.

Kim Krisberg summarizes the study findings in her post at The Pump Handle.

“To conduct the study, researchers analyzed data from the Nurses’ Health Study, which was established in 1976 and involved nearly 122,000 nurses. The night shift analysis was based on 22 years of health and behavioral data follow-up among nearly 75,000 of the participating nurses. In a press release about the findings, study co-author Schernhammer, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and associate epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, described the study as “one of the largest prospective cohort studies worldwide with a high proportion of rotating night shift workers and long follow-up time. A single occupation (in this case, nursing) provides more internal validity than a range of different occupational groups, where the association between shift work and disease outcomes could be confounded by occupational differences.”

The full study can be accessed here: Total and Cause-Specific Mortality of U.S. Nurses Working Rotating Night Shifts (PDF). In the summary conclusions, the authors say that the study results “add to prior evidence of a potentially detrimental effect of rotating night shift work on health and longevity.”

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