Circadian Rhythm and Potential risks of shift workers

Though obtaining full respite through sleeping is inevitable for humanity, present day ‘graveyard shifts’ or shift workers are locating implications of potential risks. 15-20 % of working population in industrialized countries is accustomed to some kind of permanent night and rotatory shift works. And intercontinental or transmeridian  travel across several time zones of the globe will disrupt the natural sleep-wakeful cycle and exposure to light at a typical biological times will also afflict their circadian rhythm. When the circadian clock becomes out of sync the hormones will thrown off balance and lead to fatigue, and abilities of brain will become dulled. Here, it tries to analyze the potential risks of shift workers with a special reference to the Islamic concepts on sleep.

The phenomenon of sleep is one of the soothing and satiating gifts from Almighty. Our body can attain full respite after having a sound sleep.(1) In this highly sophisticated world driven by productivity and economic causes the impact of shift works making havoc in human body is to be analyzed at length. Our body has not only the structure in space expressed by anatomy. But it has a structure in time consisting of rhythms of numerous frequencies. Circadian rhythms are the most widely studied and pertinent for work physiology. (2)

Cognitive functions, physical strength and dexterity are determined by the Circadian rhythms in terms of which is the best and worst time for work performances.(3) It is proved that prolonged circadian dyschrony with sleep deprivation poses health risks for transmeridian travelers and shift workers.(4) Islam has taught sleep as an act of worship and prescribed the way how man has to undergo to it for staying awake at needed hours.

Researchers by examining fruit flies which are like human beings and having several circadian clocks effecting their rhythm of daily processes that there could be one Central clock that can control several others at the same time, related to sleeping, eating and other functions of human body. (5) Our master clock is thought to be located in the Suprachiasmatic nucleus, part of the brain’s hypothalamus region, made up of around 20,000 neurons. (6)

‘Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (or SCN) situated right above the point in the brain where the optic nerve fibers cross. This location enables the SCN to receive the cues it needs from light in the environment to help it keep time’. (7) The system requires inputs of light and genes to the cycle on track. To reset and stay on the 24-hour cycle the brain needs the input of sunlight through the eyes. If it is being kept in continuous darkness, then the body, daily cycle tend to lengthen to about 25 hours.

Our biological clock also controls cycles which occur sensationally and at intervals. We will be cycling through the 24 hour periods even without visual cues. Essentially, Circadian clock is the timer that lets various glands know when to release hormones and controls our mood, alertness, body temperature and other aspects of daily cycle.(8)

Many of our daily rhythms are controlled by hormones. Melatonin is one of the hormones responsible for the daily cycle of our body. Melatonin makes us feel sleepy when the night falls and when there is less light input to see the SCN. More Melatonin will be secreted with the darkness. Then the brain will get the signal to go into the sleep mode. When the Melatonin secretion is inhibited with the rise of sun, the brain’s awake circuits will resume.(9)

Potential long term effects

Long time epidemiologic studies on the large population of night and rotatory shift workers have suggested an increase in the breast and colon cancer in the long run. (10) The out-of-sync clock is linked to obesity, depression, diabetes and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). A delayed sleep wake phase disorder can be seen in people identified as ‘night owls’. This keep advanced sleep-wake phase and will get tired by early in the evening.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics ‘nearly 15 million Americans work a permanent night shift or regularly rotate in and out of night shifts’.(11) It shows the number of people exposed to the hazards of the disruption of the metabolic processes of our body.  They should have to combat their bodies’ natural rest period for having alert and awake at night shifts. People like medical professionals, Police officers may have to bear the brunt of night shifts.(12) American Journal of Surgery 2018 (Vol.195, No 2) reports that ‘when performing surgery on a virtual patient, well-rested surgeons were significantly smoother in their hand motions and made fewer errors than did their sleep deprived counterparts’.(13) Eastman from Rush University is of the opinion that  ”the only thing you can do is symptomatic relief, meaning you should have very sleepy people working at night, which is dangerous”.(14)

Sleeping at night is a natural necessity. And it does not need any pre-requisites or resources. Without anyone’s helping hand normal people can fall asleep even without lying to get rejuvenated.(15) It is considered as the best form of rest.(16) It is a gift bestowed by Allah. He says : “it is out of his Mercy that  he has put for you night and day, that you may rest therein (i.e, during the nights) and you may seek of His Bounty (i.e, during the day) and in order that  you  may be  grateful”.(17) And it is to be reflected as an act of miracle and sign. Allah says: ‘’And among His signs is the sleep that you take by night and by day, and your seeking of His Bounty. Verily, in that are indeed signs for a people who listen”. (18) These verses endorses that nights were created by Lord   for rest (sleep) and day for finding fortune (work). (19)

After the exhausting activities of day hours one has to meet the need of sleep.  Islam teaches every Muslim should allow the body to take rest. In the famous hadees of Abu Darda’ and Salman, we can read: “your Lord has right over you, your self has right over you and your wife has right over you. Give those rights their due”. When the prophet came to hear the words of Salman he expounded that “Salman has spoken the truth”.(20)

Sleep experts have agreed the fact that the rate of sleep needed may differ to persons. The optimum rate of sleep is at which will not cause a person feel sleepy when he is meant to awake or concentrate on a task. (21) Dr.Ray Meddis, Professor in the Department of Human Sciences in England, University of technology stated that a person actually needs only three hours of sleep. (22) The required rate depends on age, type of work and personal condition. Quranic verses emphasized the relaxation at night as a requirement.  Allah says: ‘’And it is He who makes the night a covering for you and the sleep (as) repose and makes the day ‘nushur'(ie, getting up and going about here and there for daily work, etc after one’s sleep at night or like resurrection after one’s death”.(23)

Islam also encourages to have a short sleep or rest in the afternoon known as ‘qailulah’, which will provide psychological and physiological benefits to a worker. The study conducted in relation to the effect of sleep in industrial and post-industrial countries in terms of 25 years have found that 92.5% of workers who managed to have a nap in the afternoon had higher level of creativity compared to those who did not. Sleep expert from Cornel University concluded that 15 to 20 minutes nap in noon is sufficient to re-energize and keeping a person healthy. (24) A short nap of 30 minutes will reduce the heart problem by 30% in comparison to those who do not. (25) This system is practiced by many countries as ‘power-nap’. Even Japan has initiated salons in its major cities. The sleep in times after ‘Subah’ and ‘Asar are discouraged by Islam as it harms our brain. The prophet taught the position of sleep as ”lie on your right rib”. We can see that in the perspective of health, the best position is by lying on one’s right as the left lung is smaller than the right. And it will make easier to discharge food from stomach after digestion. Studies find that the food move from stomach to Colon in about 2.5 to 4.5 hours for those who sleeps on their right, the same will take 5-8 hours for those sleeps on left.

Conclusion

Islam promotes the greatness of good productivity in each deed. Man may try to abstain from consuming food and water, but cannot from sleep. It is the biological phenomenon that cannot be denied. Teachings of Islam are complement and comprehensive with its balanced and absolute teachings that can take humanity to higher stations of excellence. Let us go on in sync with our biological clocks and secure a sound body.

 

References:-

  • Mohd yusof, farahwahida, Sleep phenomenon from the perspectives of Islam and science, Center of Research for Fiqh science & technology (CFiRST), University Teknologi Malaysia.
  • Haus, Erhard & Smolensky, Michael, Biological clocks and shift work: Circadian dysregulation and potential long-term effects, Springer 2006, p.490.
  • Ibid, p.491.
  • Ibid, 495.
  • Circadian Rhythms, National Institute of General Medical Sciences.
  • Nield, David, This Internal ‘Master Clock’ Could be in Control of all our Circadian Rhythms, science Alert.
  • Walton, Alice G, ’Your Body’s Internal Clock and How It Affects Your Overall Health’.
  • Price, Micheal, The risks of night work, Science watch Journal.
  • Walton,Alice G,’Your Body’s Internal Clock and How It Affects Your Overall Health’.
  • Haus, Erhard & Smolensky, Michael, Biological clocks and shift work: Circadian dysregulation and potential long-term effects, Springer 2006.
  • Price, Micheal, The risks of night work, Science watch Journal.
  • Kodampuzha, Bava Musliyar, ‘Urakkavum Swopnavun’ (Sleep and Dream), Al Maarif Publications.
  • Mohd yusof, farahwahida, Sleep phenomenon from the perspectives of Islam and science, Center of Research for Fiqh science & technology (CFiRST), University Teknologi Malaysia, p.106.
  • Quran –Al Qassas:73
  • Quran Al Rum:23
  • Mohd yusof, farahwahida, Sleep phenomenon from the perspectives of Islam and science, Center of Research for Fiqh science & technology (CFiRST), University Teknologi Malaysia,p.106.
  • Al Bukhari, Muhammad Ibn Ismail, Swaheehul Bukhari, hadees No:1839
  • Mohd yusof, farahwahida, Sleep phenomenon from the perspectives of Islam and science, Center of Research for Fiqh science & technology (CFiRST), University Teknologi Malaysia, p.107.
  • Ibid, 107.
  • Quran- Al Furqan:47
  • Mohd yusof, farahwahida, Sleep phenomenon from the perspectives of Islam and science, Center of Research for Fiqh science & technology (CFiRST), University Teknologi Malaysia, p.107.
  • Ibid, p. 108.

About the author

Mohamed Lukhman Bukhari is a prolific freelance writer in English and translator. His interest area revolves around the spectrum of cultural studies. He currently teaches at ISRA Institute, Vadanapally, Thrissur.

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