Shift workers at higher diabetes risk, disrupted sleep cycles, and side effects of sleep medications

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(NaturalNews) Restful sleep is one of the most important factors in disease prevention, immune support, hormone regulation and overall well-being. But several new studies show that shift workers who labor at odd or inconsistent hours on a regular basis tend to miss out on it, which increases their risk of type 2 diabetes and other health problems, not to mention the risks associated with sleeping pills and alertness meds that are minimally beneficial and often harmful.

An observational study that looked at 15 trials involving 718 people found that shift workers who work "non-standard" hours are much more likely than others to experience sleep disruptions. And even when they take sleeping drugs, these workers typically only add an additional 24 minutes or so to their sleeping regimen while gaining no advantages in terms of ease of falling asleep.

While natural sleep hormones like melatonin were found to work best, common pharmaceuticals prescribed for sleep were determined to work no better than a placebo at either inducing or improving sleep. And in some cases, sleeping drugs caused patients to experience extreme headaches, nausea and a rise in blood pressure, making the problem worse.

"For lots of people who do shift work, it would be really useful if they could take a pill that would help them go to sleep or stay awake at the right time," said Juha Liira from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Helsinki, lead author of the study.

"But from what we have seen in our review, there isn't good evidence that these drugs can be considered for more than temporary use and some may have quite serious side effects."

In a separate study published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine (OEM), Chinese researchers looked at a much larger pool of individuals who work odd hours, and particularly rotating shift schedules that prevent a normal sleep cycle. In this review, 12 international studies involving more than 226,500 individuals were used as a baseline to calculate the health risks of missing sleep.

After accounting for all outside factors, the researchers observed a 9 percent increased risk of type 2 diabetes among all shift workers compared to workers with normal daytime hours. Specifically among men, this risk more than quadrupled to 37 percent, even after things like study design, location, job type, shift schedule and body mass index (BMI) were accounted for.

Men need regular, uninterrupted sleep to produce adequate testosterone

Since male hormone production is regulated by the body's internal clock, it is crucial for men to get regular, uninterrupted sleep in order to maintain optimum testosterone levels. Repeated interruptions or abnormal sleeping cycles caused by shift work, diet and other factors can dramatically increase a man's risk of disease.

As indicated in the OEM study, low testosterone levels are directly associated with factors of type 2 diabetes, including insulin resistance. Researchers believe that disruptions in hormone production, as caused by a lack of or inconsistent sleep, can worsen the metabolic factors associated with diabetes, increasing one's risk of debilitating illness.

"Research has shown that the highest levels of testosterone happen during REM sleep, the deep, restorative sleep that occurs mostly late in the nightly sleep cycle," wrote Michael J. Berus, Ph.D., for Psychology Today. "Sleep disorders, including interrupted sleep and lack of sleep reduces the amount of REM sleep, will frequently lead to low testosterone levels. And this is important for men and women."

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