OBJECTIVE--The study was designed to examine the effects of age on sleep and the circadian rhythms during consecutive night shifts. METHODS--Two groups of letter sorters (19-29 (n = 7) and 53-59 (n = 7) years of age were studied in a sleep laboratory under closely controlled conditions. After two baseline days, circadian adjustment to three night shifts was monitored by continuous measurement of rectal temperature, salivary melatonin, and sleep-wakefulness during the night shifts. RESULTS--Age was significantly related to the adjustment to night work of rectal temperature minimum and of self rated sleepiness. Young subjects delayed their temperature phase and decreased sleepiness more than the older subjects. Age was also significantly related to an increase of alertness and to the feeling of being refreshed after the day sleep. Although there were basic differences in sleep duration and structure between the age groups, the latter did not change across the night shifts. CONCLUSION--Aging decreases the ability to recover after several, but not after the first night shift.
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