Swing Shift Work and Cortisol

An average human secretes about 30 to 40 milligrams of cortisol each day. We will come back into that number and why that’s important when we discuss cortisol replacement. One of the key points here is that we are hardwired for this cortisol rhythm. Meaning, highest in the morning, lowest at night. And disease and pathology occur when this rhythm is disrupted. We’re all familiar with this because we’ve heard of these stories, but the classic example is night shift workers, people who are working from 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m.

When people maintain a swing shift work schedule, they have more diseases and die prematurely. A great example of swing shift workers are the casino industry in Las Vegas and police officers. Why do these people die younger? They’ve disrupted that cortisol rhythm. It’s 2:00 a.m. and they’re shining a light on their eyes, they’re wide awake, and they’re telling their body they should be wide awake when in a hardwired biochemical sense, they really should be sound asleep. If you do that enough, it will catch up with you.

So, again, cortisol is secreted from any perceived stress. Our brains cannot discern real or perceived stress. In modern society, we are fear-based, as most of us work for a living. Today’s COVID situation is a classic example. Many people are watching the daily number of deaths and new infections. The pressures of family, school, and work are the main stressors we face. Each time we perceive stress, whether or not we are concerned, our cortisol rises. Without a correction in our circadian rhythms, the effects of insomnia and chronic fatigue take its toll.