SDW news brief: Study suggests link between night-shift work and diabetes

Staff Development Weekly: Insight on Evidence-Based Practice in Education, December 9, 2011

A study of night-shift nurses, conducted by Frank Hu, MD, of the Harvard School of Public Health, reveals an increased risk of type 2 diabetes among women who consistently logged overnight hours, reports When evaluating two decades' worth of data on 177,184 women between the ages of 42 and 67, Hu and his colleagues found that nurses were 20% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes if they worked three years of periodic night shifts, compared to those who exclusively worked days. The risk jumped to 60% for women who have worked the night shift for 20 years or more. 

Several lifestyle issues could contribute to the increased risk of diabetes, including weight gain, sleep deprivation, and smoking. But the study also explored the possibility that disruptions to one's circadian rhythms, or body clock, could trigger insulin resistance and a rise in blood sugar levels, and could hinder the body's ability to metabolize foods depending on the time of day. Erratic sleep patterns caused by night-shift work contribute to this problem.

Though the authors of the study made every effort to control factors such as diet, sleep deprivation, smoking, and hereditary risk of diabetes, additional research is necessary to verify their conclusions. This study focused on a specific population of primarily white, female nurses; future studies require the inclusion of men and alternate ethnic groups.

The results of the study were published in the PLoS Medicine journal and reported by


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