Shift work, and in particular night work, has been linked in several studies to an increased risk of several common diseases including certain cancers such as breast cancer, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. However, other studies have not found such associations and it is unclear why risk of these diseases might be higher among shift workers. Possible reasons include the harmful effects of disturbed patterns of certain hormones (such as melatonin) due to electric light at night, shift workers having disturbed sleep or shift workers being more likely to have known lifestyle risk factors for disease. To better understand the possible relationships between shift work, sleep and subsequent risks of disease and death, we are conducting a programme of research in three large cohort studies, the Million Women Study, EPIC-Oxford, and UK Biobank. This research aims to contribute towards a fuller understanding of a potentially important and modifiable occupational risk factor for several common diseases.

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