Women: Are crazy work hours hurting your health?

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(MoneyWatch) British researchers have found that women who work shifts and/or nights could be at risk for some serious health problems. Of 119,000 women surveyed, female shift workers had a 22 percent higher risk of menstrual issues and a dramatic 80 percent higher risk of lowered fertility than those working a typical 9 to 5 day. Expecting moms that worked at night also experienced higher rates of miscarriages. Whatever your hours, here are some ways to stay healthy when work gets hectic:

Don't blame shift work

It's the classic chicken or egg story, says study author Linden Stocker from the University of Southampton. "Whilst we have demonstrated an association between shift work and negative early reproductive outcomes, we have not proven causation," says Stocker. "Shift workers adopt poor sleep hygiene, suffer sleep deprivation and develop activity levels that are out-of-sync with their body clock," she notes.

Keep healthy habits, to keep your health

If you can't switch from shifts to a 9 to 5, and you're worried about your health, you can take steps to minimize any negative effects. "Maintaining a healthy body-weight, ensuring adequate exercise levels, and eating a well-balanced diet are as important, if not more so, in shift workers as the rest of the population. However, these factors often get neglected when women work shifts," says Stocker. In other words, it's easy to reach for carb-filled snacks and skip workouts when you're tired -- but those poor choices could be hurting your health as much as the lack of sleep.

Get help when you can

Women need to get seven to eight hours of sleep for their body to rest and recover, says Nieca Goldberg, M.D. and author of "Dr. Nieca Goldberg's Complete Guide To Women's Health." Of course, this amount of sleep sounds like a dream to many women who have full-time jobs and are raising kids. Goldberg suggests getting at least a little more shut-eye by asking for help and taking shortcuts when possible: "Learn to delegate household chores. Or use technology to get them done quicker, like ordering food from an online supermarket instead of using time to go to the market."

Make minimizing pregnancy stress a priority

To lower the risk of miscarriage, try to keep pregnancy stress under control -- no matter what hours you're working. "First you need to figure out what is stressing you," says Goldberg. "Is it you job, your pregnancy, home responsibilities or a combination of all four? Discuss this with your doctor first to see if it affecting your health. A therapist may also help you sort this out." If these solutions aren't helping, you may need to make some changes in the workplace by speaking to your boss or HR. Since it costs a lot less to keep you happy and healthy rather than making a new hire, some companies may try to help make a new schedule that works for you.

  • Amy Levin-Epstein On Twitter»

    Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who has been published in dozens of magazines (including Glamour, Self and Redbook), websites (including AOLHealth.com, Babble.com and Details.com) and newspapers (including The New York Post and the Boston Globe). To read more of her writing, visit AmyLevinEpstein.com.

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