Working night shifts could have a negative impact on health, new research has found.
Researchers from the Sleep Research Centre at the University of Surrey found that when the sleep cycle is dramatically changed there is “widespread disruption” to many biological processes.
The researchers, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) put twenty-two participants on a 28-hour day in a controlled environment without a natural light-dark cycle.
Their sleep-wake cycle was delayed by four hours every day, until sleep occurred 12 hours out of sync with their brain clock - in the middle of what would have been their normal ‘daytime’.
The team then collected blood samples to measure what was happening with the participants’ genes
The researchers found there was a six-fold reduction in the number of genes that displayed a circadian rhythm (a rhythm with an approximately 24 hour period).
Senior author Professor Derk-Jan Dijk, said: "This research may help us to understand the negative health outcomes associated with shift work, jet lag and other conditions in which the rhythms of our genes are disrupted.
"The results also imply that sleep-wake schedules can be used to influence rhythmicity in many biological processes, which may be very relevant for conditions in which our body clocks are altered, such as in ageing."
Dr Peter Carter, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said the findings could have “significant impact” upon nursing staff and patient care.
He said: “Health care workers such as nurses need to be available for patients around-the-clock. Our health service would not function without nursing staff working night shifts and being there to provide essential care for patients.
“However, it is vital that employers make sure they are properly supporting staff who work night shifts. They need adequate breaks and preventative health checks. Nursing staff cannot avoid working at night, but their employers should do everything possible to protect them by minimising the risks to their health.”