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Night Shifts and Atrial Fibrillation: Exploring the Unsettling Connection

Dr. Craig Smith, MD

4 Min read

Recent research delves into the potential correlation between night shifts, poor lifestyle choices, and an increased risk of developing atrial fibrillation (AFib), an irregular heart rate. While causation remains unproven, the study underscores the importance of understanding the potential risk factors associated with nighttime work.

Night Shifts and Increased AFib Risk:

A study, featured in the European Heart Journal, indicates that individuals working night shifts face a 12 percent higher risk of AFib compared to their daytime counterparts. Although the study doesn't establish a direct causal link, it highlights a noteworthy association, prompting further investigation into the impact of nocturnal work on heart health.

Public Health Implications:

Yingli Lu, co-leader of the study and researcher at Shanghai Ninth People’s Hospital, suggests that while the study can't definitively connect night shifts to AFib, the findings imply a potential risk factor. This revelation holds public health implications, prompting considerations for both the frequency and duration of night shift work to safeguard heart and vascular health.

Research Methodology:

The research, based on data from over 283,000 individuals in the UK Biobank, reveals an 18 percent increase in AFib risk for those with a lifelong commitment to night shifts. Additionally, individuals working 3 to 8 night shifts per month for a decade or more experienced a 22 percent surge in AFib risk.

Expert Perspectives:

Dr. Parveen Garg from Keck Medicine at the University of Southern California notes that the study's outcomes align with expectations, attributing the heightened AFib risk to the potential adoption of an unhealthy lifestyle during night shifts. Factors such as sedentary behavior, impaired fasting glucose, and challenges in maintaining a balanced diet contribute to increased vulnerability.

Understanding Atrial Fibrillation:

AFib, the most prevalent form of heart arrhythmia, disrupts the regular heart rate in the upper chambers. If left untreated, AFib can lead to severe complications such as heart failure and stroke. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported over 175,000 cases of AFib on death certificates in 2018, projecting over 12 million Americans to be affected by 2030.

Gender Disparities:

The study highlights a noteworthy gender disparity, indicating that women working night shifts for over a decade face a 64 percent higher AFib risk compared to their daytime-working counterparts. Despite this finding, experts emphasize the need for cautious interpretation and don't label it as a definitive link between AFib and night shifts.

Health Maintenance for Night Shift Workers:

Dr. Megan Kamath, a UCLA cardiologist, recommends strategies for night shift workers to mitigate health risks, including clustering night shifts, improving sleep hygiene, maintaining good nutrition, and regular exercise. While the study urges awareness, experts emphasize an integrated approach to health management rather than advocating for a drastic change in occupational choices.


The investigation into the potential association between night shifts and AFib adds a layer of complexity to understanding heart health. While the study emphasizes a correlation, experts stress the importance of comprehensive health management, focusing on lifestyle improvements and routine healthcare visits to mitigate potential risks associated with irregular work schedules.

About the Author

In 1984, Dr. Craig Smith founded Lifesource. As a coach, he's worked with world-class athletes and guided thousands towards successful weight loss. Driven by a desire to elevate his understanding of the human body, he returned to the rigors of medical school in his 50s, achieving his goal of becoming a physician at 56. Now in his 60s, Dr. Smith leads by personal example, continuing to inspire, educate and empower individuals from all walks of life to achieve their health and fitness goals. If you wish to train and diet online with Dr. Smith, hear his message and schedule a 45-minute consultation on the New You page.