Night work is bad for the heart

Only vampires function better at night. The rest of us simply can't keep up -- and anyone who works the night shift regularly will tell you the toll it takes on the body.

As a doctor, I've been there myself -- and I've felt the changes in my own body.

That's why shift work in general and night shifts in particular have been linked to any number of health risks time and again. And now, a major study finds that it can take an especially steep toll on the heart.

Overall, people who work at night have a 41 percent higher risk of serious vascular events such as heart attack or stroke than people who work normal hours, according to the study in BMJ.

But even if you don't work at night, you might not be in the clear -- because any form of irregular hours, including rotating shifts, evening shifts, irregular hours and mixed shifts, increases those same risks by nearly a quarter.

It's not just because working the night often leads to unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as fast food and vending machines. Those certainly play a role, but the researchers behind the new study adjusted for those tendencies and still found that increased risk.

That means the real reason is in the body itself.

The human body was not designed to function at night and sleep in the day. It's designed to use the sun and darkness as cues for the production and release of certain hormones.

That's why shift work throws the body off rhythm -- and when your hormone production loses its rhythm, your body gets the blues.

Along with the heart problems revealed by the new study, night shifts and shift work have also been linked to obesity, diabetes, ulcers, mood disorders, and memory problems, just to name a few of the risks. And it's been linked to cancer so often that the World Health Organization even labels shift work as a "probable carcinogen."

There's no easy answer here. Obviously, work days if you can -- but I realize that's not always a choice. If you're working nights and have no other option, be sure to take extra care of your body.

And never stop trying to get that day job… unless you really ARE a vampire.