Researchers say they have discovered a simple sleep strategy that can reduce shift workers’ risk of fatigue and safety incidents in the workplace.
The study, which was conducted by sleep disorder experts from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the US, claims to have found the best sleep pattern for night shift workers to get adequate sleep and therefore improve job performance the next day.
Participants who worked consecutive 11 pm – 7 am shifts were instructed to remain awake until 1 pm after each shift, then stay in bed until an hour or two before their next shift.
Participants were also instructed to make their bedroom as dark and quiet as possible before sleeping, and to turn off their phone when going to bed. These results were then compared with those of a control group who did not receive any sleep instructions.
Although achieving long and consolidated sleep in the daytime is difficult, the results revealed that participants were able to acquire the same amount of sleep as they did while working day shifts.
Participants also slept nearly two hours more each night than the control group and proceeded to perform better on vigilance and alertness tasks during their next shift.
According to researchers, these findings show that a simple behavioural change made by an individual worker can allow for better sleep and improved job performance.
“This simple intervention could be a potential non-pharmacological strategy to help shift workers and should be further explored.”
75 per cent of shift workers reportedly go to bed in the morning shortly after an overnight shift, but this sleep pattern results in a prolonged wake duration and increases the pressure for sleep on the following night shift.
According to experts, factors such as long wake duration and insufficient sleep are currently impairing shift workers’ cognitive performance during night shifts, leading to an increase in incidents in the workplace and on commutes home.
However, the study revealed that better sleep hygiene contributed to longer sleep duration, with control group workers spending an average of 34 per cent of their time in bed awake, compared to only 17 per cent among participants.
Last year, a U.S. study found that sleep loss of just 16 minutes was enough to drastically reduce the quality of a worker’s sleep, and result in reduced cognitive performance the next day (see related article).