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PLoS Med. 2011 Dec;8(12):e1001141. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001141. Epub 2011 Dec 6.

Rotating night shift work and risk of type 2 diabetes: two prospective cohort studies in women.

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Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.



Rotating night shift work disrupts circadian rhythms and has been associated with obesity, metabolic syndrome, and glucose dysregulation. However, its association with type 2 diabetes remains unclear. Therefore, we aimed to evaluate this association in two cohorts of US women.


We followed 69,269 women aged 42-67 in Nurses' Health Study I (NHS I, 1988-2008), and 107,915 women aged 25-42 in NHS II (1989-2007) without diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer at baseline. Participants were asked how long they had worked rotating night shifts (defined as at least three nights/month in addition to days and evenings in that month) at baseline. This information was updated every 2-4 years in NHS II. Self-reported type 2 diabetes was confirmed by a validated supplementary questionnaire. We documented 6,165 (NHS I) and 3,961 (NHS II) incident type 2 diabetes cases during the 18-20 years of follow-up. In the Cox proportional models adjusted for diabetes risk factors, duration of shift work was monotonically associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes in both cohorts. Compared with women who reported no shift work, the pooled hazard ratios (95% confidence intervals) for participants with 1-2, 3-9, 10-19, and ≥20 years of shift work were 1.05 (1.00-1.11), 1.20 (1.14-1.26), 1.40 (1.30-1.51), and 1.58 (1.43-1.74, p-value for trend <0.001), respectively. Further adjustment for updated body mass index attenuated the association, and the pooled hazard ratios were 1.03 (0.98-1.08), 1.06 (1.01-1.11), 1.10 (1.02-1.18), and 1.24 (1.13-1.37, p-value for trend <0.001).


Our results suggest that an extended period of rotating night shift work is associated with a modestly increased risk of type 2 diabetes in women, which appears to be partly mediated through body weight. Proper screening and intervention strategies in rotating night shift workers are needed for prevention of diabetes.

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