Sleep Care

Third Shift and Reproductive Health

While almost never preferred and mostly avoided, the dreaded third shift or “graveyard shift” is one that many individuals may be faced with working one day. Not only at a time when the body biologically knows it’s time to sleep is the employee expected to stay awake, but also function at a high level to produce the goods or services their employer expects. This for some proves to be a more difficult transition than others, and is even more complicated when one is required to bounce back and forth from the night shift to the day shift. Another struggle for individuals working third shift is the balance between health and sleep and still finding time to have a healthy social life with friends and family. Recently the effects of shift work on women specifically have been researched and some of the study’s results are rather alarming.

A new study that was performed in the United Kingdom was presented at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in London. This study compared the impact of working a standard schedule (the normal 8:00am through 4:30pm for example) to working non-standard schedules (third shift) or mixed shifts (bouncing back and forth between the two). This was unique because it gathered findings published from all studies on the subject matter from 1969 through January 2013; thus creating a large sample size throughout an extended period of time. Dr. Linden Stocker of the University of Southampton presented the findings once the information was gathered.

PregnantThe study reviewed informational data on a total group of 119,345 women. The research then showed that women who worked only third shift and mixed shifts had an 80% increased rate of subfertility, 33% higher rate of menstrual disruption, and an increased rate of miscarriage. While the numbers are there, Dr. Stocker stated the exact reason why is not as cut and dry. “Whilst we have demonstrated an association between shift work and negative early reproductive outcomes, we have not proven causation.” This is most likely because circadian rhythm disruptions and their long term affects are complicated to study. Different shift work clearly disrupts one’s circadian rhythm and also causes sleep deprivation, poor sleep hygiene habits, and shift work disorder (the chronic feeling of sleepiness due to working third shift) which are all believed to be culprits.

Although more research and studies like this one need to be conducted, the evidence of the toll a disrupted circadian rhythm can take on a woman’s body is one not to be ignored. Stocker went on to say, “If our results are confirmed by other studies, there may be implications for shift workers and their reproductive plans.” By working third shift or mixed shifts one’s biological function and clock is distorted. However severity depends on the person, and the complications of this disruption whether chronic or not may have serious consequences.

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