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Working in shifts shortens lifespan

A study of 3,912 day workers and 4,623 shift workers of South Eastern Central Railway in Nagpur showed that the former lived 3.94 years longer than those on shift duties.

entertainment Updated: Apr 22, 2007 21:43 IST

Working in shifts throughout the day instead of a normal day job could shorten your life span, a study has found.

A survey of 3,912 day workers and 4,623 shift workers of the South Eastern Central Railway in Nagpur showed the former lived 3.94 years longer than their counterparts on shift duties, said the study by Atanu Kumar Pati of the School of Life Sciences in Pt Ravishankar Shukla University, Raipur.

"Though the study was conducted on railway employees, it can also be applied to workers in other sectors, including the BPO industry," Pati said from Raipur.

Shift work affects the circadian rhythm, the 24-hour cycle in the physiological processes of humans that leads to several sleep-related and social problems.

Circadian rhythms are important in determining the sleeping and feeding patterns of all animals, including humans. Brain wave activity, hormone production, cell regeneration and other biological activities are linked to this daily cycle.

Pati and his colleague K Venu Achari analysed a database of dates of death, retirement and death of each worker and published their findings in the latest issue of "Current Science".

They also studied data on deaths due to all causes of 594 railway employees, including 282 day workers and 312 shift workers, over a span of 25 years. The cause of death was not documented in the database.

An analysis of the data showed that day workers tend to live 3.94 years longer than counterparts working in shifts.

All day workers performed duty between 9 am and 6 pm with an hour-long lunch break from 1 pm and included those on office job and doing miscellaneous duties, the study said.

Those coming for shift duties worked in a rotating system consisting of a day shift (8 am to 4 pm), first night (4 pm to midnight) and second night (midnight to 8 am).

They worked in each shift continuously for six days and had a single day break before resumption of the next shift. The shift workers included running staff, gangmen and those doing miscellaneous jobs.

"The longevity of each worker was computed from the dates of birth, retirement and death," Pati said.

The researchers cited a number of animal studies that documented the life-shortening effects of weekly shifting of light-dark cycles.

It has been argued that these effects could be mediated through disruption of the circadian rhythm. Lighting schedule manipulation has also been reported to produce detrimental effects on the lifespan of insects.