You don’t need to be a sleep expert to guess that working night shift is going to affect your sleep—but a recent study found that men’s and women’s brains react differently to this type of work. At The Insomnia and Sleep Institute of Arizona, we are committed to helping you get the quality and quantity of sleep you need for optimal sleep health with approaches that are customized to your unique life. There have been a myriad of studies that look at how night shifts have adverse effects on overall health, including brain health. However, little has been analyzed on how men and women differ in this regard.

A new study published in Translational Psychiatry explores how the central nervous system (CNS) biomarkers for those of “normal weight” who work night shift vary compared to those who are obese. The researchers at Sweden’s Uppsala University analyzed 47 adults in two different conditions: those who experienced one night of sleep loss and those who underwent one night of sleep. Following these nights, blood samples were drawn so that markers for neurodegeneration could be recorded. The initial study was meant to compare obese vs. healthy weight individuals working night shift—but they found that a perhaps more interesting finding was how men and women were different.

Battle of the Sexes for Better Sleep

The blood draw revealed that women had higher concentrations of neurofilament light chain than men. This is a possible marker that detects neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s disease and other such brain disorders. There was no rise in men who worked the night shift. The weight of individuals also played a role, with obese participants having higher levels of the protein tau. This is typically found in those who have had a traumatic brain injury (TBI). According to the authors, “Our sex- and weight-specific findings suggest that certain groups may be more vulnerable to the adverse effects of sleep loss on brain health than others.” The lead author shared with Sleep Review, “However, in the long run, a good night’s sleep is a prerequisite for everyone’s brain health.”

Women and those who were overweight (regardless of sex) also shared the struggle of staying awake when they had a night of sleep loss. This might also affect their brain health response according to the biomarker findings. The authors say that their findings add to the growing evidence that sleep loss stresses the brain. When this happens in the long run, such as with night shift work, “sleep loss may increase our risk for brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s.”

What to Do for Better Brain Health

Not everyone can avoid night shifts, but if you can that might prove helpful to your brain—especially if you are overweight or a woman. For those who are obese, losing weight can be a very helpful tool for overall health and is a major factor in managing many sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). However, there are also other measures that can be taken to improve your brain health through sleep, such as improving your sleep hygiene best practices.

For those struggling with insomnia, which is common in night shift work, working with an expert in cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is critical. This can help to decrease or avoid long-term use of pharmaceuticals for insomnia. That is why we have a clinical psychologist on our team who specializes in this approach.

The First Step to Better Sleep

No matter what type of sleep issues you have or the cause, connecting with a sleep expert who can diagnose sleep disorders during your initial consultation will put you on the fast track to better sleep—and better health. No referral is necessary to schedule your consultation, and your first meeting can lead to a correct diagnosis. This will be followed by testing and treatment if applicable.

If you are ready for better sleep, a holistic approach is necessary. Night shift workers have tools at their disposal. To learn more and schedule your consultation with The Insomnia and Sleep Institute, connect with us today. Give us a call during business hours or, for the quickest response, complete the online contact form now.