A recent study, published in Science Translational Medicine, controlled the lives of 21 people, including meal and bedtimes.
The results showed changes to normal sleep meant the body struggled to control sugar levels in people getting too little sleep at the wrong time of day.
Researchers behind the study have now made a call for more measures to reduce the impact of shift working following the results, which found some participants developed early symptoms of diabetes within weeks.
Doctors at Brigham and Women's Hospital, in the US, studied the effects of shift working in a controlled environment.
The 21 participants began the health-trial with 10 hours' sleep at night, followed by three weeks of disruption to their sleep and body clocks.
The length of the day was extended to 28 hours, creating an effect similar to a full-time flyer constantly getting jet lag.
Participants were allowed only 6.5 hours' sleep in the new 28-hour day, equivalent to 5.6 hours in a normal day. They also lived in dim light to prevent normal light resetting the body clock.
During this part of the study, sugar levels in the blood were "significantly increased" immediately after a meal and during "fasting" parts of the day.
The researchers showed that lower levels of insulin - the hormone that normally controls blood sugar - were produced.
Three of the participants had sugar levels which stayed so high after their meals they were classified as "pre-diabetic".
They also highlighted a risk of putting on weight as the body slowed down.
The study concluded: "The eight per cent drop in resting metabolic rate that we measured in our participants... translates into a 12.5-pound increase in weight over a single year."
Lead researcher Dr Orfeu Buxton at Brigham and Women's Hospital said: "We think these results support the findings from studies showing that, in people with a pre-diabetic condition, shift workers who stay awake at night are much more likely to progress to full-on diabetes than day workers.
"Since night workers often have a hard time sleeping during the day, they can face both circadian [body clock] disruption working at night and insufficient sleep during the day.
"The evidence is clear that getting enough sleep is important for health, and that sleep should be at night for best effect."
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