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Working night shifts 'disrupts genes', suggests UK study


Working night shifts plays havoc with many of the body’s genes, according to UK researchers.

Scientists disrupted the normal sleep-wake cycle of 22 volunteers until they were sleeping in the middle of the day.

They then tested the activity of genes in blood samples taken from the participants. The research showed a six-fold reduction in the number of active genes working to a 24-hour “circadian rhythm” cycle.

They included many linked to the regulation of biological processes, indicating that shiftwork or jet lag may have far-reaching physiological and health effects.

Lead scientist Professor Derk-Jan Dijk, from the Sleep Research Centre at the University of Surrey, said: “This research may help us to understand the negative health outcomes associated with shift work, jet lag and other conditions in which the rhythms of our genes are disrupted.

“The results also imply that sleep-wake schedules can be used to influence rhythmicity in many biological processes, which may be very relevant for conditions in which our body clocks are altered, such as ageing.”

Co-author Simon Archer, also from the University of Surrey, said: “Over 97% of rhythmic genes become out of sync with mistimed sleep, and this really explains why we feel so bad during jet lag, or if we have to work irregular shifts.”

The findings are reported in the latest edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


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Readers' comments (4)

  • yes i'm feeling it! don't suppose we'll get any danger money for it though...

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  • i do two weeks of nights at a time, and can actualy feel my heart beating slower after 4am

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  • just beginning to think I should never done it. then I thought of other jobs I should have chosen instead but they must all have their inherent risks of some sort or other to our health, such as commuting on overcrowded trains, leaving home early in the morning, getting home late, the actual stress of the daily journey, sitting at a desk all day long, prolonged computer use, difficult bosses and colleagues, manual jobs with musculoskeletal risks. I guess list is endless and there is not such thing as an ideal or safe job!

    but I loved nursing, despite the worry or what all the very punishing shifts with missed meal and loo breaks and 84 hour fortnights could be doing to my long term health, as well as living in and trying to sleep in very noisy and unhealthy pre-fabricated hospital accommodation overlooking a busy main road with heavy traffic day and night and a taxi rank and telephone ringing at all hours just down below and A&E with screaming ambulances and helicopter pad just opposite plus the main hospital entrance, but which to date is nothing apparent, and I now remember mainly only the good bits.

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  • Box Office Hit - 2014

    "Genes Interrupted: the story of my life"

    by A. Night Nurse

    starring A. Night Nurse


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