Diabetes and the Night Shift Factor

woman working at night feeling stressed

These days, more people work night and rotating shifts, either in a primary job or in a second one.

That’s tough enough. Tougher still is that recent studies suggest night shift work may increase your chance of developing type 2 diabetes.

Studies also show you are at more risk if you are a rotating shift worker. A rotating shift worker not only works night shifts, but rotates shift schedules or works irregular hours outside of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For people with diabetes, things are also more difficult. Many of my patients struggle to cope with their diabetes, and I know it’s hard to maintain a regimen of proper diet and exercise. Working odd hours only makes it harder.

Planning ahead can make all the difference in managing your risk factor and staying healthy.

How shift work can affect your health

Disrupting the body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm, affects us in many areas including:

  • Cardiovascular system
  • Metabolism
  • Appetite and food intake
  • Digestion
  • Immune system
  • Hormonal balance

So considering all this, if you work odd or extra hours — or hours that are constantly changing — you need to be extra vigilant maintaining your regimen if you have diabetes or are at risk for developing it.

2 tips to help you stay healthy

Here is what I suggest for patients who work rotating and night shifts:

  1. Maintain 3 meals per day. Have meals or meal replacements on schedule even though your hours may be off. If you have diabetes, be vigilant in sticking to your diet. Make sure to maintain a proper balance of protein and carbs, low saturated fats and plenty of fiber. Rather than skipping meals, using meal replacement options like Glucerna® shakes can be very helpful. Packing your lunch or dinner is often a key to maintaining a healthy eating.
  2. Adapt exercise to your work situation. To get your exercise in, take short walks during a break. Alternate steady walking with bursts of fast walking – varying speeds will increase the efficiency of your exercise. If you can, jog (again, alternating a steady pace with bursts) or have access to workout facilities and a treadmill, even better. Exercising frequently for short periods will add up — say, 10 to 15 minutes a few times a day. Aim to have at minimum 150 minutes of exercise per week, with the optimum at 300 minutes per week.

If you continue to be diligent with exercise, plan ahead for meals and get a reasonable amount (six to eight hours) of sleep, you can manage your risk. It’s a matter of adjustment; you can do it!

Medication help may be on the horizon

As of today, we have no medication that can overcome disturbed internal clock (circadian rhythm) per se. But there is hope on the horizon.

One diabetes medication, bromocriptin quick release, is thought to improve blood sugars by resetting your internal clock (at least, relevant to glucose metabolism). To achieve the desired benefit from this medication, it should be taken within the first two hours of waking up.

At this point, it isn’t clear whether bromocriptin quick release would be of specific help for people who work night shifts. However, this type of medication might pave the way for future research in defining better treatments for people with, or at risk to develop diabetes (especially those with pre-diabetes) among night shift workers.

More information

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Marwan Hamaty, MD

Marwan Hamaty, MD, MBA, is a staff physician in the Endocrinology & Metabolism Institute. His specialties are diabetes and pre-diabetes.
  • Haig Aghajanian

    viva aleppo :)

  • Philip Ellison

    You’re kidding, right? High fat/low carb diet has brought my FBS under control, dropped my cholesterol levels and normal blood pressure. Tossed all prescriptions, including statins, in the garbage. Plus, the diet has helped me lose 62 lbs. in a year.

  • Connie Kelly

    Which exercises would you suggest for a very out of shape 61 yr old with pre-diabetes?

    • Marcos 887

      Brisk Walking for 30 minutes a day. Drink lots of pure water. That’s a good start…

  • shanob

    HIGH FAT DIETS ARE THE HEALTHIEST. You need clean fats, though. Organic butter, grass fed beef, hemp oil, coconut oil and sesame oil. Eat avocados, nuts, and raw milk cheeses. No, this is all wrong, fats are good for your brain and do not cause weight gain. You should get at least 30% of your calories from these good fats.

  • DrNoSA

    Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common underlying cause of obesity and diabetes, so have a sleep test and treat with a positive airway pressure (PAP) machine when the test proves positive for OSA.

  • Jonathan

    Get your head out your….get with the program saturated fat is not the boogie man. Read some recent articles in Time Magazine etc…go read Eating Academy blog by Peter Attia.

    There are some great articles on Saturated Fat(a good video at the end of that one), Cholesterol, Ketosis. There are links to research and its all well thought out as opposed to this lame old outdated information that says saturated fat and cholesterol are the devil. They are not. HDL LDL etc.. are not cholesterol they contain cholesterol. Cholesterol is used to make hormones its important stuff. Most of it isn’t even absorbed from food. Most of it is created by the body in response to food especially the combination of tons of sugars and fat together.

    Processed foods that contain HFCS and soybean oil or other PUFAs. Peoples diets have way too much Omega 6 because of this junk. The diet you advocate here isn’t at all balanced between Omega 3 and 6 and causes inflammation.

    Please check out Peter Attia and Eating Academy website and you’ll have a much better idea about how cholesterol/saturated fat etc.. really work.

    Go find some stuff by Steven Gundry he has a good podcast with Jimmy Moore that talks about fats. There are very few people who have a major issue with animal foods and those that do can eat more seafood. Unless you have a coconut allergy coconut is an extremely healthy food and is saturated fat.

    Sheesh get out of the dark ages with your rhetoric. You are doing a disservice to your patients when you are so out of date.