According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 15 million Americans (about 16%) work full time or part time jobs with fluctuating schedules known as shift work. Although these jobs can be just as prestigious as any Nine-to-Five occupation, this kind of job wears hard on your body. Recent studies show that these jobs can result in dietary habits that increase your risk of sleep apnea, especially obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
The Diet of Shift Work
Various health organizations, including the CDC, advise the public about the adverse health effects of shift work. A 2015 study published by the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Finland found that one of the things that makes these jobs unhealthy is diet. They found that many people make unhealthy dietary choices to compensate for their fluctuating schedule.
The study included 1478 airline employees divided into 608 day workers, 541 shift workers, and 329 in-flight workers. Participants took part in several forms of measurement to determine their overall health, including a food-based intake questionnaire. Results showed that shift workers made more unhealthy food choices than day workers. Male shift workers consumed fewer fruits and veggies than day and in-flight workers. Female shift workers had an increased saturated fat intake than other groups as well, especially as age increased. Researchers checked for other variables that could account for these dietary differences, but found none.
Results from this study show that working an irregular schedule could increase your saturated fat intake. Although there’s nothing wrong with the occasional hamburger or bag of chips when you’re running late, regularly consuming foods high in saturated fats can lead to weight gain.
Unfortunately, weight gain can cause OSA, which occurs when soft tissue in your mouth and throat obstruct your airway at night, leading to multiple periods of waking. When you gain weight, your body distributes the fat across your body. When you lay down at night, extra fat deposited on your neck presses against your throat, causing an obstruction to your airway that disturbs your sleep.
Treat Yourself Right
You don’t need to quit your job in order to obtain a healthier lifestyle. Instead, you can make changes that protect your overall wellbeing. Keeping pre-cut fresh fruits and veggies on-hand and stocking your pantry with low fat, easy-to-grab meals and protein snacks can help you make healthy eating choices.
Monitor Yourself for Signs of Sleep Apnea
Shift work does not mean that you will develop OSA, but it does increase your risk. Sleep apnea is a potentially life-threatening condition if left untreated for long periods of time. Sufferers of sleep apnea experience multiple breathing disruptions (called apneas) at night, or they simply stop breathing. These apneas rob your body of valuable rest by pulling you out of deeper sleep to get your breathing going again. Untreated, sleep apnea has been linked to diabetes, heart disease, depression, and kidney failure.
If you experience snoring, daytime fatigue, and frequent headaches, you might consider a sleep study to find out if you suffer from sleep apnea. After a positive diagnosis from an experienced physician, Dr. Kevin Berry will work with you to develop a treatment plan to manage your breathing. Many cases require only an oral appliance to support the soft tissue in your mouth at night. Some cases require the assistance of a continuous positive airway pressure machine (CPAP) for a continuous flow of oxygen through the night.