Clinicians working graveyard, rotating shifts may face increased risk of stroke

Physicians, nurses and other healthcare personnel who work graveyard or rotating shifts may be interested to learn that new research from the Texas A&M Health Science Center in Round Rock suggests these changing schedules can contribute to severe stroke outcomes.

David Earnest, PhD, professor in the Texas A&M Department of Neuroscience and Experimental Therapeutics, led the research.

"The body is synchronized to night and day by circadian rhythms — 24-hour cycles controlled by internal biological clocks that tell our bodies when to sleep, when to eat and when to perform numerous physiological processes," said Dr. Earnest. "A person on a shift work schedule, especially on rotating shifts, challenges, or confuses, their internal body clocks by having irregular sleep-wake patterns or meal times."

The root of the problem is not the length or the shift or the strange hours, it's the inconsistent times a person wakes, eats and sleeps every few days on a rotating schedule.

Animal models showed stroke outcomes were more severe in rats on shift schedules than in those on normal schedules. For instance, rats on shift schedules experienced worse outcomes in terms of brain damage, loss of sensation and limb movement. The study also found the effect of shift schedules was much worse on male than female rats.

"This research has clear implications for shift workers with odd schedules, but probably extends to many of us who keep schedules that differ greatly from day-to-day, especially from weekdays to weekends," said Dr. Earnest added.



More articles on shift work:
Nurses working night shift for years at higher risk of heart disease, study finds
Perspective: Why long physician hours are good for patients
Longer breaks between shifts help nurses recover more fully from work, study finds

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