Women's heart health at risk with night shift

Queen’s study shows potential link between shift work and cardiovascular problems

Nina Wan, Nurs ‘14, says a healthy lifestyle can help to prevent cardiovascular disease in female nurses.
Nina Wan, Nurs ‘14, says a healthy lifestyle can help to prevent cardiovascular disease in female nurses.
Photo: 

Working night shifts may have negative long-term health implications, according to a study from Queen’s School of Nursing.

Professor Joan Tranmer found that night shift work may lead to an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease in women.

Tranmer studied 227 female nurses, administrative employees and lab and equipment technicians in Ontario between the ages of 22 and 66.

17 per cent of participants had at least three out of five indicators for cardiovascular risk. Indicators include elevated blood glucose levels, elevated waist circumference and hypertension.

“What we saw was that there was a link between shift work and indicators of risk,” Tranmer said. “We’re on the high end of what should be a fairly healthy population of women.”

The findings confirm what other studies have found in the past, Tranmer said, adding that the results are still concerning.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, cardiovascular diseases are the leading causes of death in Canadian men and women.

As a former nurse herself, Tranmer knows what it’s like to do shift work.

“It certainly is very, very disruptive physically,” she said. “I remember being at the three or four o’clock time in the morning where you could feel your body temperature drop and sense fatigue.”

The transition between student life and the workforce can be demanding for nursing students, especially if they don’t have experience working night shifts, Tranmer said.

“We need to better prepare the younger workers and prevent them from developing signs of cardiovascular risk,” Tranmer said.

Maintaining an active lifestyle, healthy diet and good sleep patterns are important strategies to prevent cardiovascular disease, she said.

“It’s not rocket science.”

Tranmer is now conducting follow-up research to better understand the link between night shift work and cardiovascular risk.

Nina Wan, Nurs ’14, said the School of Nursing can do more to educate students about the risks of shift work.

Nursing students need to learn how to maintain a healthy lifestyle while dealing with job stresses such as shift work, she said.

“There are risk factors for doing night shifts. We were never taught that,” she said. “You just have to be more aware. Take care of yourself before you take care of others.“

Overall, Wan said she’s not worried about the potential implications of Tranmer’s research. She said the findings are less about the results of working night shifts and more about lifestyle choices.

“Just make sure you exercise, you eat well-balanced meals,” she said. “It’s preventable.”

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.