Work shifts that fall significantly outside of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. can have a negative effect on workplace safety and wreck havoc with employees’ sleep schedules. But a new study offers tactics workers can use to be more alert at work, get better sleep and have more normal schedules on their days off.
Participants worked 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shifts. Subjects worked three nights, had two days off, and then worked four more nights. Their sleep schedule:
- 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. after the first two night shifts
- 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. after the third night shift
- 3 a.m. to 12 noon on the two days off, and
- 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. after the final four night shifts.
- were exposed to five, 15-minute, intermittent bright light pulses each night shift
- wore dark sunglasses when outside, and
- received outdoor afternoon light exposure.
Workers who followed this regimen had increased performance and alertness during nights shifts and were able to work nights while achieving more normal daytime schedules on their days off compared to control subjects.
Conventional wisdom for night workers has been to maintain the same sleep schedule on days off as on work days. However, this meant they couldn’t be awake during normal daytime hours and enjoy their days off.
The study was conducted by Rush University Medical Center and appears in the December issue of the journal SLEEP.