Night shift workers often experience poor sleep and fatigue. But a new study has found some interesting findings that may help older people lower the side effects of working night shifts.
Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and Harvard Medical School found that older people who work nights may feel more alert and sleep longer if they stay up longer after getting off work, then stay in bed for a full eight hours, waking up closer to the start of their shift.
The small trial led by Dr. Jeanne Duffy wanted to determine if behavior changes alone would make a difference in total sleep and work performance.
For the test, two groups of nine adults each was recruited. Participants ranged in age from mid-50s to early 60s and all spent 8-hour simulated work shifts in a lab but slept at home.
Participants were required to “work” for were shifts from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. They then got a day off and worked four-night shifts from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. During the shifts, researchers administered tests and tasks to assess sleepiness, attention, and performance.
Participants could go to bed when they wanted after day shifts, but after night shifts, one group was instructed to stay out of bed until at least 1 pm, then stay in bed for eight hours. The other group was only told to delay going to bed until 1 pm.
Researchers found that prior to the study and while working day shifts, both groups spent roughly the same amount of time in bed and asleep, roughly 8 hours. However, during the night shifts, the group instructed to stay in bed for eight hours got as much as they had before, while the group given no instructions spent less and less time each day in bed while working night shifts.
The conclusion of the study, published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine, showed that when participants were instructed to sleep only in the afternoon and remain in bed for eight hours, they were able to average two hours more sleep each day than the comparison group. All participants were prone to concentration problems on the night shift when compared to the day, but the group that followed the sleep instructions performed somewhat better.
“The impact of night shift work on sleep deprivation, insomnia and downstream cardiovascular health and mental health outcomes is so profound the American Association of Sleep Medicine has created the diagnosis of Shift Work Sleep Disorder,” said Dr. Amanda Hassinger of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo, New York, who wasn’t involved in the study.
“If we can find the essential aspects of sleep health that lead to better overall health, we can design safer staffing models and shifts that make night workers healthy, happy1 pm and optimize the quality of their work,” she added.
The study also found that years after retirement, people who suffer from this syndrome retain poor sleep patterns linked to stroke, heart attacks, hypertension, and type-2 diabetes.
This study outlines the importance of looking at adults who work night shifts differently than the general population. Physicians should be more alert to warning signs presented by these individuals, which could help reduce the incidence of disease later in life.