The Future of Shift Work: Circadian Biology Meets Personalised Medicine and Behavioural Science

    Frontiers in Nutrition

    Gregory D. M. Potter and Thomas R. Wood

    Shift work is commonplace in modern societies, and shift workers are predisposed to the development of numerous chronic diseases. Disruptions to the circadian systems of shift workers are considered important contributors to the biological dysfunction these people frequently experience. Because of this, understanding how to alter shift work and zeitgeber (time cue) schedules to enhance circadian system function is likely to be key to improving the health of shift workers. While light exposure is the most important zeitgeber for the central clock in the circadian system, diet and exercise are plausible zeitgebers for circadian clocks in many tissues. We know little about how different zeitgebers interact and how to tailor zeitgeber schedules to the needs of individuals; however, in this review we share some guidelines to help shift workers adapt to their work schedules based on our current understanding of circadian biology. We focus in particular on the importance of diet timing and composition. Going forward, developments in phenotyping and “envirotyping” methods may be important to understanding how to optimise shift work. Non-invasive, multimodal, comprehensive phenotyping using multiple sources of time-stamped data may yield insights that are critical to the care of shift workers. Finally, the impact of these advances will be reduced without modifications to work environments to make it easier for shift workers to engage in behaviours conducive to their health. Integrating findings from behavioural science and ergonomics may help shift workers make healthier choices, thereby amplifying the beneficial effects of improved lifestyle prescriptions for these people.

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