Working night shifts, evening shifts, and rotational shifts – basically having irregular schedules is a part of modern-day society. Generally, rest is a nighttime activity and work is a daytime activity. However, working either on shifts or for extended hours or odd hours can throw your hormones out of whack. Research presented at the 25th European Congress of Endocrinology found that four weeks of irregular work-life schedules in female mice caused their biological clocks to malfunction and impact their fertility.
The study found how circadian disruptions impact female fertility and could ultimately aid in the creation of preventative strategies to avoid the risk. Health Shots got in touch with Dr Prachi Benara, Consultant, Birla Fertility and IVF, Delhi, to understand the link between work shits and infertility.
How does working in shifts impact fertility in women?
The circadian rhythm is created by the body’s internal clocks, which are synchronised to a 24-hour cycle primarily by variations in daytime light. These clocks regulate a number of biological processes and activities, including the sleep-wake cycle, hormone secretion, digestion, and reproduction. However, they are easily disrupted by inappropriate light exposure, such as light at night.
Working in shifts can have an impact on your fertility due to the disruptions in the body’s natural circadian rhythm and sleep patterns. Irregular working hours, including overnight shifts and frequent changes in work schedules, can affect your body’s internal clock. It can negatively affect your hormonal balance and reproductive function as well. In fact, working in shifts has been associated with menstrual irregularities, decreased fertility rates, and an increased risk of miscarriages and preterm births. Fertility rates are affected by poor habits such as smoking, consumption of alcohol, and unhealthy dietary habits, as well as conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity, explains Dr Benara.
Tips to reduce the risk of infertility if you work in shifts
1. Maintain a healthy lifestyle
One of the best ways to reduce the risk of infertility, if you work in shifts, is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Eating a balanced diet, engaging in regular physical activity, and managing stress levels through meditation and mindfulness may help. The expert says leading a healthy lifestyle can support overall well-being and potentially mitigate some of the negative effects of shift work.
2. Stick to a sleep schedule
We tend to underestimate the power of good sleep. It is vital to establish a proper sleep schedule, even if you’re working in shifts. Ensure that you are sleeping at least 6-8 hours a day and create a dark, quiet and comfortable sleep environment.
3. Exercise regularly
It goes without saying that physical activity should be a constant part of your lifestyle. Dr Benara recommends aerobic exercise for 30-40 minutes every day that will not only enhance your physical health but also help you sleep well. Walking and doing yoga are also great to keep your overall health in check.
4. Manage your exposure to light
Light exposure plays a crucial role in regulating your body’s circadian rhythm. During night shifts, minimise exposure to bright light on your commute home, and consider using blue-light-blocking glasses or apps to reduce exposure to artificial light before sleep, says the expert.
5. Seek social support
Connect with colleagues who work similar shifts, as they can understand the challenges you face. Share experiences and coping strategies to help manage the demands of shift work. You can also seek support from your loved ones or a professional.