BRYAN, Texas — Shift work is being shown to have lasting effects on our bodies and mind. Researchers in the College of Medicine at Texas A&M say shift work is linked to strokes later in life.
Dr. David Earnest, Professor, Department of Neuroscience and Experimental Therapeutics, Texas A&M University.
“We were looking at an ischemic stroke and how occlusion of the blood vessels and its corresponding damage to the brain and loss of function, how the shift work cycles had a long-term effect on ischemic stroke,” said Dr. David Earnest, Professor, Department of Neuroscience and Experimental Therapeutics, Texas A&M University.
Dr. Earnest says ischemic stroke, when a blood vessel supplying blood to the brain becomes blocked by a blood clot, occurs later in life, and shift works cause a disruption in our sleep-wake schedule.
“That disruption of circadian rhythm in response to shift work carries over in terms of how it affects the impact of ischemic stroke on the brain and functional recovery in middle age,” said Dr. Earnest.
Using a rodent model allowed Dr. Earnest and his research team to control certain factors that were ideal for the study.
“We can very specifically control and look at and isolate the effects of the shift work cycles and disrupting 24-hour rhythms,” said Dr. Earnest.
He says certain components cannot be isolated in humans such as poor diet, smoking, and other cardiovascular risk factors.
At 27 years old, Dale Cuthbertson started his 30-year career as a police officer.
He says what happens during the shift is more stressful than the shift itself.
“You’re involved in DWIs, public intoxication arrests, fights at the bar, family disturbance calls, making a run to the hospital because of a stabbing victim,” said Dale Cuthbertson, retired Bryan police officer. "Over a period of time, that becomes the lens that you’re looking through to see the world.”
He said it can be a challenge to fully separate yourself from your line of work.
“You bring that home, unfortunately in many case,” said Cuthbertson. “If you’re blessed enough to be able to shut that out, that’s great, but you see that a lot of them don’t do that. They bring it home and when they do, it affects their home life, it affects their relationship with their children, their spouse.”
Dr. Earnest says shift work such as emergency responders is leading to severe strokes later in life.
“Service personnel and people that do work on shift work cycles experience a disruption of 24-hour circadian rhythms and their internal body clocks that carries over and affects human health,” said Dr. Earnest.
Within the study, Dr. Earnest highlights how 20 percent of the world’s population does shift work.
The animal models served as a mock to the stressors placed on people by working extensive shifts.
“We exposed the animals to rotating shift work cycles during their adolescent period in correspondence to when humans normally experience shift work, which is from 18 to age 26,” said Dr. Earnest.
Cuthbertson said while he was a police officer, his stress levels went up and down often.
“You go from zero to one hundred on a stress level when you’ve got hours of nothing going on to an immediate call of some serious event that has just occurred,” said Cuthbertson.
Another issue with shift work is diet, and Cuthbertson said with only 20 minutes to eat and working overnight, there were not many options.
Dr. Earnest says this is where the problem arises.
“It’s very difficult for shift workers, especially those with families,” said Dr. Earnest. “To maintain their normal cycle, in terms of sleep-wake, active time, mealtime, and so on that they’re experiencing while they’re working their shift.”
Dr. Earnest said with more research, they hope to find ways to return gut and brain communication to normal by creating a routine schedule to better our human health.