Feeling Tired Isn’t The Only Bad Result Of Too Few Zzzzzzzzs

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Negative evidence about sleep deprivation continues to pile up. Consider these new research findings:

  • University of Iowa researchers report that if you’re averaging less than six hours sleep a night, you’re more susceptible to chronic fatigue and high-risk health problems, including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Studying 85 male officers from three police agencies in eastern Iowa, they found that working evening or night shifts leaves you 14 times less likely to get restful sleep and more likely to draw back-to-back shifts, worsening your sleep deficit.

The study team urges new approaches to “break the cascade of poor sleep for police officers” in the interest of their personal health and public safety. Among suggestions: change the time of early-morning court appearances for night-shift officers to better assure adequate rest.

An abstract of this study, which appeared in Workplace Health & Safety, can be found by clicking here.

  • Shift work has long been known to disrupt circadian rhythm, sleep, and proper work-life balance. Now an analysis of studies by Canadian, Norwegian, and Swedish researchers pinpoints some of the negative specifics.

According to a report in the British Medical Journal, shift work—defined as any schedule other than a regular daytime duty tour—is linked to a 23% increased risk of heart attack, a 24% increased risk of some type of “coronary event,” and a 5% increased risk of stroke.

A 10-person research team analyzed the collective results of 34 studies of the “epidemiology of shift work and vascular events,” involving more than 2,000,000 workers, to reach these conclusions.

In an interview, one of the researchers, associate professor Dan Hackam of Western University in Ontario, noted that shift workers tend to be more prone to sleeping and eating badly. “Night shift workers are up all the time and they don’t have a defined rest period,” he said. “They are in a state of perpetual nervous system activation, which is bad” for various health factors.

Jane White, an occupational safety and health researcher quoted in a BBC News report on the study, recommended “avoiding permanent night shifts, limiting shifts to a maximum of 12 hours, and ensuring a minimum of two full nights’ sleep between day and night shifts” as “simple, practical” means of helping to counteract shift-work effects.

The study can be read in full, without charge, by clicking here.

[Our thanks to Keith Bettinger, formerly with the Suffolk County (NY) PD for sharing this study with us.]

  • Two other studies—one from Columbia University, the other from the University of California-Berkeley—report that the brain is more attracted to unhealthy junk foods when sleep-deprived.

Says one of the Columbia researchers, Dr. Marie-Pierre St-Onge, “Under restricted sleep, individuals will find unhealthy foods highly salient and rewarding, which may lead to greater consumption of those foods.” Participants in that study “ate more overall and consumed more fat after a period of sleep restriction compared to regular sleep.”

The lead researcher in the Berkeley study, Dr. Stephanie Greer, a doctoral student in neuroscience, says that sleep loss “significantly impair[s] brain activity in the frontal lobe, a region critical for controlling behavior and making complex choices, such as the selection of food to eat.” Deprived of sleep, the brain seems to fail to “integrate all the different signals that help us normally make wise choices about what we should eat.”

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