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Minimise the impact of "shift-work"

Aligning Shift Work Health with Time-Restricted Eating: A Promising Pathway

In the modern world, nearly every cell in our body dances to the rhythm of a 24-hour biological clock, orchestrating our daily behaviour and physiological processes. These intricate circadian rhythms synchronise with environmental cues, guiding us on when to be active, when to rest, and even regulating vital functions like blood pressure, blood sugar, and muscle activity. However, the delicate harmony of these rhythms can be disrupted, especially for individuals engaged in shift work, leading to potential health consequences such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Understanding Night Shift Work and its Health Impact

Night shift work, is a vital component of industries ensuring round-the-clock operations for healthcare, commerce and logistics. We usually consider a night shift worker as someone who works all night. What if we could all be classified as night shift workers?

The EU’s definition of a Night Shift worker is:

Individuals who stay awake for two to three hours between 22:00 and 05:00 for at least 50 days annually.

Alarming statistics indicate that almost 30 percent of Americans fall into this category, facing the challenge of managing their health within the constraints of irregular sleep-wake patterns. However, like we consider second hand smoker to be dangerous, what about all the partners who are disturbed every time that individual come home or wakes up for their shift? We believe that 30 percent is a conservative estimate of the true problem in society.

The implications of shift work disruptions on health are profound. As circadian rhythms sync with the environment through cycles of light and darkness, and eating and fasting, any disturbances can result in a cascade of health issues including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. These findings emphasise the urgent need for interventions that can counteract these detrimental effects and promote better health among shift workers.

In 2007, the World Health Organisation's International Agency for Research on Cancer classified shift work with circadian disruption as a "probable" Group 2a carcinogen, based on compelling evidence from animal and human studies. This places night shift work in the same category as:

  • Smoking

  • Diesel fumes

  • Gamma radiation

  • Hepatitis B/A

  • Coal

  • Formaldehyde

  • HIV

Among the various types of cancer, breast cancer has been extensively studied in relation to shift work. Research conducted by Bonde et al. in 2012 revealed a statistically significant increase in the risk of breast cancer among individuals who had worked night shifts for 20 years or more. The study also raised concerns about potential risks for shorter durations of night shift work. Notably, they highlighted the importance of melatonin secretion, a hormone suppressed by light exposure during night time work, in regulating tumour growth. Additionally, there have been indications of an increased risk of prostate cancer associated with shift work, further underscoring the potential cancer-promoting effects of disrupted circadian rhythms.

Time-Restricted Eating: A Behavioural Change with Potential

In the pursuit of improving the well-being of shift workers, a glimmer of hope emerges in the form of time-restricted eating (TRE). This behavioural approach focuses on consuming meals within a specific window of time, which may provide a practical means of aligning disrupted circadian rhythms with eating habits. Research suggests that TRE could be a simple yet effective way to mitigate the health risks associated with shift work.

Studying the Feasibility and Benefits

Recognising the unique challenges that shift workers face, researchers from the SALK Institute and UC San Diego Health embarked on a journey to explore the impact of time-restricted eating on this population. The study, involving 150 firefighters over a 3-month period, who often engage in demanding and irregular schedules, demonstrated promising results. They were asked to track their eating window on an app called

The researchers found that implementing a 10-hour eating window for shift workers was not only feasible but also significantly beneficial:

  • Cholesterol Improvement: The firefighters exhibited a significant decrease in the size of "bad" cholesterol (vLDL) particles, reducing the likelihood of arterial blockage.

  • Mental Health and Alcohol Intake: Shift workers experienced improved mental health and a notable reduction in alcohol intake by approximately three drinks per week.

  • Blood Sugar and Blood Pressure: Time-restricted eating contributed to better blood sugar and blood pressure levels, particularly for those with elevated levels at the study's outset.

The impact of shift work

The implications of these findings extend beyond firefighters to a broader range of shift workers, including healthcare professionals like nurses who often grapple with abnormal sleep-wake patterns. The study's lead author, Emily Manoogian, emphasises that since shift workers are particularly at risk for various diseases, it is crucial to tailor interventions that cater to their unique circumstances. The use of technology, such as apps to track habits, and monitoring stations instead of clinics, played a pivotal role in enabling shift workers' active participation in the study.


In a world that thrives on constant activity, shift work has become an essential cornerstone. Yet, as we recognise the toll it can take on health, it becomes increasingly imperative to find solutions that mitigate its negative effects.

The synergy between circadian rhythms and eating patterns offers a ray of hope in the form of time-restricted eating. As the research shows, aligning eating habits with circadian rhythms can pave the way to improved cardiovascular health and well-being for shift workers. By adopting such innovative approaches, we have the potential to reshape the lives of countless individuals, ensuring that even in the world of shift work, health remains a priority.



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