Night Shift and Hormones. The Problem.
Night shift hormone release
So, let’s talk about the night shift and hormones. There are several hormones that are released during the night shift. Our bodies have an intrinsic sleep-wake cycle called a circadian rhythm that has been with us since the beginning. This rhythm takes its cues from the natural light and dark cycle of each 24 hours. Typically as humans, we are awake in the daytime (daylight hours) and asleep at night (dark hours). This cycle is the driver for the release of several hormones in the body that affect the regulation of several body systems.
When the sleep-wake cycle is not congruent with the light/dark cycle there can be some disruption in the body’s homeostasis. There are several hormones that are released as we sleep. Cortisol and melatonin are two of these hormones.
Cortisol is released during times of stress but also in a biphasic pattern during sleep. Typically, cortisol levels rise rapidly in the middle of the night and peak in the early morning. It is linked to the internal clock that we all have called the circadian rhythm. Cortisol is important for blood sugar (glucose) levels. It regulates and modulates fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism to maintain blood glucose.
In addition, melatonin is another important hormone that is released while we sleep. It helps regulate other hormones and maintains the body’s circadian rhythm. Clearly, it plays a critical role in the circadian rhythm when we fall asleep and when we wake up.
Therefore, light and dark and when you sleep plays a role in hormone release. Night shift workers have these systems shifted. This poses a problem if precautions are not taken to mitigate the effects on the body from the shift.
If we don’t have a consistent release of sleep-related hormones, we are a risk for obesity, heart disease, and other ailments. Unfortunately, that is the bad news. In the next blog in this series, I will share some solutions and preventive measures to avoid this if you work at night.
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