Working Night Shift Slows Metabolism, Study Suggests

November 19, 2014   ·   0 Comments

Working Night Shift May Slow Your Metabolism

Finding means fewer calories burned, and may explain why shift workers tend to gain weight, researcher says

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Amy Norton

HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Nov. 18, 2014 (HealthDay News) — Working by night and sleeping by day may slow down the body’s metabolism, a small study suggests.

Researchers found that when they put 14 volunteers on a schedule that simulated night-shift work, it quickly curbed the number of calories their bodies burned every day.

On average, they expended 52 to 59 fewer calories on “night shift” days, the researchers reported in the current online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

That’s a fairly small difference — but one that could add up over time, according to senior researcher Kenneth Wright, of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The findings, he said, offer one explanation for the negative health effects linked to shift work. Past studies have shown that people on night or rotating shifts have heightened rates of obesity, diabetes and other health problems.

“Shift work goes against our fundamental biology,” Wright said. And blunted calorie-burning, he added, may be one of the consequences.

A dietitian who was not involved in the study agreed. “We’ve recognized for years that when people go on the night shift, they gain weight,” said Lauri Wright, an assistant professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

“We’ve tended to look at possible behavioral reasons,” said Wright, who is also a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Do they eat more to stay awake? Are they too tired to exercise when they’re off of work?”

She stressed that food choices, lack of exercise and other lifestyle factors are important. “But,” she said, “this study clearly shows there are physiological effects” of a night-shift schedule.

For the study, Wright and his colleagues recruited 14 people to live at their sleep lab for six days. First, the volunteers spent a couple of days on their normal schedule. Then they switched to a night-shift schedule, staying awake at night and sleeping during the day.

The participants’ meals were carefully controlled, so they took in the same number of calories each day. Despite that, the researchers found, people’s calorie-burning declined on the days they followed a night-shift schedule.

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