OBJECTIVES--Shift work can lead to a range of problems for some people that seem to result from the disturbance of the circadian system, and can broadly be classified as: disturbances of sleep, impaired physical and psychological health, and disturbed social and domestic life. The main attempt to try to reduce these problems has focused on the design of the shift system, and the identification of the most problematic features of the shift system. One such feature is believed to be the direction of shift rotation. Systems that advance are thought to be more problematic than those that delay. The present study examines the change in the direction of shift rotation from a delaying to an advancing system on health and wellbeing. METHODS--Self reported measures of tolerance to shift work were taken two months before and six months after the change. These included sleep difficulties, gastrointestinal problems, psychological ill health, chronic fatigue, social and domestic disruption, job satisfaction, and satisfaction with the shift system. RESULTS--The change from a delaying to an advancing system resulted in an increase in sleep difficulties between successive afternoon shifts, but a decrease in social disruption. There was little evidence of impaired health on the advancing compared with the delaying system. CONCLUSIONS--The increase in sleep difficulties was thought to result from the undesired adaptation of the circadian system to night work, as a result of the afternoon shifts now following a series of night shifts, whereas previously they followed a series of morning shifts. The decrease in social disruption was thought to result from the specific sequence of the shifts and the discontinuous nature of the shift system, in particular, the long week-end off every third week. Lack of reported health related differences are explained in terms of the relatively unharmful nature of the shift system in question, and the relatively short time span over which the study was conducted.
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