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Exercise and diet can be particularly important for night workers

Published by
May 1, 2019

Just one night without sleep can lead to increased breakdown of muscle tissue and fat accumulation, according to a new study. That's why it's important to eat right and exercise if you work at night, says researcher. Weight gain and type 2 diabetes are some of the risks that research suggests can be associated with night work. A Swedish study from Uppsala University provides new insights into what happens to the body when working at night or when sleep is disturbed.

In the study, fifteen younger men in good health had to follow the same dietary and physical activity routines. The men had a normal night's sleep and a night of being kept awake in a sleep laboratory. After each night, the researchers took tissue samples from their subcutaneous fat and skeletal muscle.

- In the study, we saw evidence that when sleep deprivation occurs, adipose tissue tries to increase fat storage. Muscle tissue showed signs of increased breakdown, while the ability to metabolize circulating blood glucose was impaired," says Christian Benedict, a sleep researcher and associate professor of neuroscience at Uppsala University.

- These changes may help explain why disrupted sleep and night work increase the risk of weight gain and type 2 diabetes.

Exercise can help

The breakdown of muscle and the build-up of fat can mean that it is particularly important for night workers to take good care of themselves.

- I believe that regular exercise, a healthy diet and light can help reduce the health effects of night shifts. However, working at night goes against our biological circadian rhythm. Therefore, by living a healthy lifestyle, we can mitigate, but not completely eliminate the risk of working at night," says Christian Benedict.

If you time your exercise right, it can also have an impact on how sleepy you feel on the night shift.

- Studies have shown that intense exercise the evening before a night shift will delay the release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin the following night. Therefore, exercise the evening before a night shift may help us to better cope with the nocturnal feeling of tiredness and make it easier to fall asleep after the night shift, says Christian Benedict.

According to Lars L. Andersen, professor at the National Research Center for the Working Environment, it makes sense that exercise can help manage the feeling of being sleepy.

- Many people find it difficult to sleep right after a workout, as it triggers a number of processes in the body and releases adrenaline. This can easily be turned into an advantage for night workers, who need to stay awake," he says, adding that exercise is important for all employees.

Source: 'Acute sleep loss results in tissue-specific alterations in genome-wide DNA methylation state and metabolic fuel utilization in humans'. The study is supported by the Danish Novo Nordisk Foundation.

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