Shift workers logging odd hours more likely to be overweight and at risk for diabetes

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- In our 24/7 society, more Americans are working odd hours including the graveyard shift, and a new survey finds they're more likely to have problems that could send them to their grave sooner.

Joanna Jackson worked the night shift as a nurse for three years. She still does occasionally at Saint Luke's Hospital.

"I'm a night shift person 'til about midnight, and then I kinda hit a wall and get a little bit sleepy," said Jackson.

A new survey of Wisconsin workers finds shift workers are more likely to be sleepy during their wake time, have insomnia and be sleep-deprived.

"People that try to sleep during the day and work at night sleep between one and four hours less than they would if they were sleeping at night," said Dr. Jason Graff, a sleep specialist at Saint Luke's.

The survey suggests those sleep problems take their toll.

"The hormones aren't regulated in the same way," said Dr. Graff.

About half of the shift workers were overweight compared to around a third of people working normal hours. The shift workers also appeared more likely to develop type two diabetes.

Dr. Graff says shift workers must make sleep a priority and must keep a regular sleep schedule even on the weekend.

"You still try to stay up most of the night and go to bed at a similar time whether you're working or not. Then your internal body clock can get more accustomed to that schedule," he said.

Jackson said, "My number one tip for trying to sleep would be working out. On the days I work out, I always sleep better."

The doctor also says to make sure your work area at night is brightly lit to help you maintain alertness and then sleep better when you're off work. He also says to wear sunglasses on the way home from work in the morning, and create a dark and quiet sleep environment for daytime.

The survey results are in the journal Sleep Health.