Published: April 15, 2021

Shift work is an additional factor to be considered in identifying groups at high risk of COVID-19.

This is the finding of a new study, involving Life Course Centre researchers, investigating the relationship between shift work and COVID-19 infection in the United Kingdom.

The study, published in the Journal of Sleep Research, used data from UK Biobank participants who were tested for COVID‐19 from 16 March to 7 September 2020. The 18,221 participants were categorised as non‐shift workers, day shift workers, mixed shift workers and night shift workers. The results showed that people employed in a night‐shift‐based jobs were 1.85 times more likely than their counterparts to have COVID‐19. This association remained strong for those undertaking night shift work in non‐healthcare settings.

The research concludes that shift workers, particularly night shift workers, irrespective of their occupational group, seem to be at higher risk of COVID‐19. “The findings of this paper provide preliminary but strong evidence for the role of shift work in COVID‐19 infection. Thus, when we are considering risk factors for COVID‐19 and/or vulnerability for the condition, which may prompt testing, shift work might be one of the additional factors to be considered for timely intervention and management of at‐risk patients.”

While there is strong evidence on circadian rhythm disruption in shift workers and consequent increased vulnerability for infection, this is one of the first studies to explore associations between shift work and COVID‐19 infection. The lead author on this paper was Dr Yaqoot Fatima, Research Fellow at the Institute for Social Science Research (ISSR) at The University of Queensland. Co-authors included Chief Investigator Associate Professor Abdullah Mamun, also of ISSR.

Dr Yaqoot Fatima also recently published in The Conversation on the importance of good sleep habits in early childhood. As well as adequate sleep duration, the time that children go to bed also plays an important role in physical, emotional and cognitive development.

Her research, based on data from 1,250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 5 to 8, shows that, even after controlling for sociodemographic and lifestyle factors, children who had consistently late bedtimes (after 9.30pm) were on average 1.5kg to 2.5kg heavier at follow up three years later than children who go to bed early (at around 7pm). Irregular bedtimes can disrupt natural body rhythms and can also lead to behavioural challenges in children.

“Early childhood is a critical time in which the foundations of life-long habits are built. Developing healthy sleep habits can set children on the right path for better future health and well-being.”