Night Shifts, Hectic Work Schedules When Young Can Lead to Depression, Poor Health in Middle Age

A new scientific study found that people who worked odd hours or had sporadic schedules got less sleep and had health problems

<p>Getty</p> Stock image of a woman working at night


Stock image of a woman working at night

Hectic work schedules or working odd hours outside the 9-5 workday can be detrimental to a person's long-term and mental health, a new study found.

This new study, published by NYU Silver School of Social Work professor Wen-Jui Han in the scientific journal PLOS One, takes an in-depth look at "the critical role employment plays in our health by examining how employment patterns throughout our working lives, based on work schedules, may shape our health at age 50." According to Han, working late nights on a regular basis is simply unhealthy.

"Our work now is making us sick and poor," Han told NPR in an interview. "Work is supposed to allow us to accumulate resources. But, for a lot of people, their work doesn't allow them to do so. They actually become more and more miserable over time."

Related: World Health Organization Now Recognizes Burnout as a Mental Health Syndrome

The study — which used data from a long-running survey of Americans aged 22 and 49's sleep, health patterns and work schedules — found that people with a "stable" employment pattern were better off in terms of sleep and health.

It also explored how harder working conditions impact the health of specific groups, including people of different races and ethnicities, genders, levels of education, immigration status and whether they live in more urban or rural regions. Black people with lower levels of education disproportionately reported working more night shifts, sporadic schedules and getting lower levels of sleep than other groups, such as people with higher levels of education or White people, the study found.

Han's work also suggests the effects of work schedules on a person's well-being — both good and bad — can accumulate over time.

"Work that is supposed to bring resources to help us sustain a decent life has now become a vulnerability to a healthy life due to the increasing precarity in our work arrangements in this increasingly unequal society," she told Science Daily. "People with vulnerable social positions (e.g., females, Blacks, low-education) disproportionately shoulder these health consequences."

Related: 1 in 4 Women Are Considering Career Shifts — Including Leaving Workforce — Over Burnout: Study

There were also differences in the amount of work done over time — people who worked regular day shifts early in life before transitioning into "volatile" schedules later on had poor health and sleep outcomes. Han warned of the long-term health impacts that are well-known in the scientific community — such as depression, anxiety, obesity and a higher risk of having a stroke.

"We can say they voluntarily want to work long hours, but in reality, it's not about voluntarily working long hours," Han told NPR. "They sense that the culture of their work demands that they work long hours, or they may get penalized."

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According to the Cleveland Clinic, a lack of sleep — which can be associated with working longer hours, per Han's study — can cause many short- and long-term health problems, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and put people at a higher risk for diseases like Type 2 diabetes.

"When our work becomes a daily stressor," Han added to the outlet, "these are the kind of health consequences you may expect to see 30 years down the road."

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