Advice for shift workers & frequent travelers

Research shows that frequent travelers and people who work night shifts are at higher risk for diabetes, heart disease and weight gain. A recent Harvard Medical school study showed that people with inconsistent and little sleep experienced an 8% decrease in resting metabolism (this translates to weight gain of ~ 10lbs a year). Participants’ blood glucose levels rose and about 15% of 21 participants were classified as pre-diabetic. Shocking, right?

Another study from the Havard School of Public Health focused on shift work among nurses. Be prepared to read these stats: “those who had rotating night shifts for 1 to 2 years had a 5% increased risk of diabetes; working nights on and off for 10 to 19 years upped the risk to 40%; and women who pulled graveyard shifts for more than 20 years were 60% more likely to develop diabetes than those who never worked at night.” Sleep deprivation, poor food choices, and decreased physical activity contributed to the shocking stats.

If you can’t avoid shift work or business travel, try to be consistent in everything else so you can better manage your sleep. i.e. keep your meals, exercise, and other healthy habits consistent. As a frequent traveler, I try to maintain a very strict schedule but it is difficult. It’s nice that my meals are regularized even though timing may be off while traveling. I do get regular exercise though, while on the road – sleep deprivation is an exercise inhibitor, and exercise helps you sleep :-). I also take melatonin at bed time to help get back on track.

It will be much easier to get adequate sleep if all other healthy habits are stable. Consistency is key!

Dr John Ellis MD

Board-certified anesthesiologist, with expertise in cardiovascular anesthesia and the implications of obesity and sleep apnea in anesthesia. See for professional information. Dr. Ellis has used the strategies in here to: (1) lose 120 lbs over 18 months, (2) stop all antihypertensive medicines, and (3) no longer need CPAP treatment for sleep apnea.

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