December 1, 2008

Night shift workers can improve alertness

Use of light exposure therapy, dark sunglasses and a strict sleep schedule can help night-shift workers increase alertness, U.S. researchers said.

Subjects underwent a total of seven simulated night shifts from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. with two days off. Experimental subjects slept in dark bedrooms at scheduled times: 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. after the first two night shifts, from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. after the third night shifts, from 3 a.m. to 12 p.m. on the two weekend days off, and again from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. after the final four night shifts

When the phase delays of the experimental group had likely reached the compromise circadian position, performance for this group was close to the level during day shifts, demonstrating fast reaction times with low variability and few or no lapses. In contrast, the control group continued to show longer and more variable reaction times on all night shifts.

Lead author Mark Smith of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago said this created compromise circadian phase position, may result in increased performance and alertness during night shifts while still allowing adequate nighttime sleep on days off.

The findings, published in the journal Sleep, show that performance was better for the experimental subjects than the controls.