People who work overnight are more likely to experience cardiovascular problems compared to those who work during the day, new research reveals.

Night shift workers are at an increased risk of developing atrial fibrillation (AF), particularly those who have worked overnight for ten or more years, the study reports.

Additionally, it found that working overnight is also associated with cardiovascular disease.

Researchers also discovered that more than 100 genetic variations did not lower the risk of AF for night time workers.

Chief researcher Professor Yingli Lu said: “Although a study like this cannot show a causal link between night shifts and atrial fibrillation and heart disease, our results suggest that current and lifetime night shift work may increase the risk of these conditions.

“Our findings have public health implications for preventing atrial fibrillation.

“They suggest that reducing both the frequency and the duration of night shift work may be beneficial for the health of the heart and blood vessels.”

The team of academics assessed the data of 286,535 people from the UK Biobank, with the majority not having any registered heart complications when they first joined the British study.

Over the ten-year trial, more than 5,000 new cases of AF were recorded amongst the participants.

According to the results, the individuals who work overnight were 12% more at risk of developing AF compared to those who work throughout the day.

Employees who have regularly worked overnight for more than ten years had a 22% increased risk of AF and are up to 37% more likely to develop coronary heart disease compared to daytime workers, the analysis revealed.

The findings also identified that female night workers were at more risk of developing cardiovascular problems in comparison to males who work night shifts.

Fellow researcher Professor Lu Qi said: “There were two more interesting findings. We found that women were more susceptible to atrial fibrillation than men when working night shifts for more than ten years. Their risk increased significantly by 64% compared to day workers.

“People reporting an ideal amount of physical activity of 150 minutes a week or more of moderate intensity, 75 minutes a week or more of vigorous intensity, or an equivalent combination, had a lower risk of atrial fibrillation than those with non-ideal physical activity when exposed to a lifetime of night shift work.

“Thus, women and less physically active people may benefit particularly from a reduction in night shift work.”

Prof Lu Qi concluded: “We plan to analyse the association between night shift work and atrial fibrillation in different groups of people.

“This may strengthen the reliability of these results and serve as a warning to groups working in certain types of occupations to get their hearts checked early if they feel any pain or discomfort in their chests.”

The study is now published in the European Heart Journal.

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