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Scheduled afternoon–evening sleep leads to better night shift performance in older adults


Objectives This study investigated whether an intervention designed to reduce homeostatic sleep pressure would improve night shift performance and alertness in older adults.

Methods Non-shift workers aged 57.9±4.6 (mean±SD) worked four day (07:00–15:00) and four night shifts (23:00–07:00). Two intervention groups were instructed to remain awake until ~13:00 after each night shift: the sleep timing group (ST; n=9) was instructed to spend 8 hours in bed attempting sleep, and the sleep ad-lib group (n=9) was given no further sleep instructions. A control group (n=9) from our previous study was not given any sleep instructions. Hourly Karolinska Sleepiness Scales and Psychomotor Vigilance Tasks assessed subjective sleepiness and performance.

Results The ST group maintained their day shift sleep durations on night shifts, whereas the control group slept less. The ST group were able to maintain stable performance and alertness across the initial part of the night shift, while the control group’s alertness and performance declined across the entire night. Wake duration before a night shift negatively impacted sustained attention and self-reported sleepiness but not reaction time, whereas sleep duration before a night shift affected reaction time and ability to sustain attention but not self-reported sleepiness.

Conclusions A behavioural change under the control of the individual worker, spending 8 hours in bed and waking close to the start of the night shift, allowed participants to acquire more sleep and improved performance on the night shift in older adults. Both sleep duration and timing are important factors for night shift performance and self-reported sleepiness.

  • ageing
  • shift work
  • sleep
  • circadian rhythms
  • PVT

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