It comes as no surprise that as a nurse working night shift, you often do not get the recommended amount or quality of sleep. What you may not realize is that lack of sleep often results in disrupted circadian cycles, and therefore disrupted cycles and hormone regulation.1
A 2012 study examined the risk of breast cancer in shift nurses as a result of decreased levels of melatonin and increased levels of reproductive hormones.1 When night shift employees sleep during the day, melatonin levels are decreased by 62 percent, while levels of FSH and LH are increased by 62 percent and 58 percent, respectively. When these same employees sleep during the night, FSH and LH levels returned to normal, however melatonin levels continue to be significantly low.
While these results show that shift work does not increase the risk of breast cancer as a result of increased levels of reproductive hormones, it does support the theory that decreased levels of melatonin may be a risk factor for breast and other types of cancer.1 Six studies show decreased levels of melatonin in patients after diagnosis, while three out of four studies report that women with higher levels of melatonin have a lower risk of breast cancer.
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