Working on the night shift for as little as three days can disrupt protein rhythms, raising the risk of diabetes, a recent study has revealed.

The researchers of the latest study from the Washington State University and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory explored how night shift workers are more prone to metabolic disorders, including diabetes and obesity.

According to the results published in the Journal of Proteome Research, even "just a few days on a night shift schedule throws off protein rhythms related to blood glucose regulation, energy metabolism, and inflammation, processes that can influence the development of chronic metabolic conditions."

The researchers recruited volunteers who were kept under simulated night or day shift schedules for three days. The participants were then kept awake for 24 hours after their last shift, under constant lighting, temperature, posture, and food intake. This was to measure their internal biological rhythms without any outside influences.

While the participants were kept awake, blood samples were drawn to identify proteins in blood-based immune system cells. Some of these proteins are closely linked to the master biological clock. Since the master clock which keeps the body on a 24-hour rhythm is resilient to altered shift schedules, there was not much change for these proteins.

However, in most other types of proteins, such as those involved in glucose regulation, there was a substantial change in rhythms among night-shift participants compared to the day-shift participants.

The researchers noted that there was a nearly complete reversal of glucose rhythms in night-shift participants. The night shift participants also did not have synchrony in processes involved in insulin production and sensitivity. These processes should typically work together to keep glucose levels within a healthy range.

This is caused by the regulation of insulin trying to undo the glucose changes triggered by the night shift schedule, which may be a healthy response at the moment, but problematic in the long run, the researchers explained.

"There are processes tied to the master biological clock in our brain that are saying that day is day and night is night and other processes that follow rhythms set elsewhere in the body that say night is day and day is night. When internal rhythms are dysregulated, you have this enduring stress in your system that we believe has long-term health consequences," said senior study author Hans Van Dongen, from the WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine in a news release.

The findings suggest that early intervention is possible to prevent diabetes and obesity, which could also be applied to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke in night shift workers.