Melatonin, caffeine, prescription medications, light therapy and naps have all been used to help overnight shift workers stay alert and avoid injuries. Of those, new research shows one that appears to work pretty well is …
the old stand-by, caffeine.
A study published in the Cochrane Library shows caffeine worked better than naps at reducing errors and improving performance among late-night workers. It worked as well as prescription medications and light therapy — and it costs less than those.
The research didn’t look directly at worker injuries, but safety pros know an alert worker is less likely to be injured.
Third-shift workers suffer more injuries on the job. Some of the biggest workplace disasters occurred on the night shift: the Exxon Valdez and the Chernobyl and Three Mile Island nuclear incidents.
Although no correlation has been shown yet to fatigued workers, the recent BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico also happened at the start of the overnight shift.
So the good news for night workers who’ve relied on caffeine is that there’s no reason to discontinue doing so, if they’re healthy.
The best way for them to take advantage of caffeine’s effects: small doses spread out over time.
If night workers find they’re losing concentration, a 20-minute break with caffeine might help. That’s how long it takes for the substance to have an effect.