How Working Nights Messes With You

While working the night shift for about two years, I often told people, "I just don't feel normal." Turns out, I was closer to the truth than I thought: Researchers have found that night jobs affect genes in very negative ways, leading to even more dangerous health risks than previously thought. Regularly sleeping during the day causes about one-third of genes to fall out of sync with the body, according to the University of Surrey study. (Yes, your genes can fall out of sync, apparently.)

"It's chrono-chaos. It's like living in a house. There's a clock in every room in the house and in all of those rooms those clocks are now disrupted, which of course leads to chaos in the household," says researcher Derk-Jan Dijk.

In the study, which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers tested the effects of sleep shifting as 22 people went from having a normal daylight schedule to that of an overnight worker. They were monitored for three days in a dark sleep lab. While that might sound like the absolute perfect way to spend three drowsy days, the results were quite striking — and scientists were surprised that such drastic effects were found in such a short amount of time.

During the first day, when the body reset its circadian rhythm, nearly 1,400 genes — about 6.4 percent of all genes that were analyzed — were in sync with that rhythm. On the days of shifted sleep, however, the number of genes tied to the body's clock dropped dramatically, to 228 genes, or only 1 percent of genes analyzed.

Scientists already know that abnormal sleeping patterns are linked to higher rates of type-2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer rates. This study may also explain why travelers feel so bad during jet lag.

"[Complications] show up after several years of shift work. We believe these changes in rhythmic patterns of gene expression are likely to be related to some of those long-term health consequences," Dijk says.

Even though I don't think I worked enough late nights to suffer any major health problems, I have experienced some personal "chaos" because of it. Mainly, not being able to wake up in time to have brunch EVER with your friends — or be productive any time before 2 p.m.

Though a positive note: There were plenty of random excuses for late-night drinking with coworkers.

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