The impact of sleep timing and bright light exposure on attentional impairment during night work.

Research paper by Nayantara N Santhi, Daniel D Aeschbach, Todd S TS Horowitz, Charles A CA Czeisler

Indexed on: 30 Jul '08Published on: 30 Jul '08Published in: Journal of biological rhythms


The prevalence of hazardous incidents induced by attentional impairment during night work and ensuing commute times is attributable to circadian misalignment and increased sleep pressure. In a 10-day shift work simulation protocol (4 day shifts and 3 night shifts), the efficacies of 2 countermeasures against nighttime (2300 to 0700 h) attentional impairment were compared: (1) Morning Sleep (0800 to 1600 h; n = 18) in conjunction with a phase-delaying light exposure (2300 to 0300 h), and (2) Evening Sleep (1400 to 2200 h; n = 17) in conjunction with a phase-advancing light exposure (0300 to 0700 h). Analysis of the dim light salivary melatonin onset indicated a modest but significant circadian realignment in both sleep groups (evening sleep: 2.27 +/- 0.6 h phase advance, p < 0.01; morning sleep: 4.98 +/- 0.43 h phase delay, p < 0.01). Daytime sleep efficiency and total sleep time did not differ between them or from their respective baseline sleep (2200 to 0600 h; p > 0.05). However, on the final night shift, the evening sleep subjects had 37% fewer episodes of attentional impairment (long response times: 22 +/- 4 vs. 35 +/- 4; p = 0.02) and quicker responses (p < 0.01) on the Psychomotor Vigilance Task than their morning sleep counterparts. Their response speed recovered to near daytime levels (p = 0.47), whereas those of the morning sleep subjects continued to be slower than their daytime levels (p = 0.008). It is concluded that partial circadian realignment to night work in combination with reduced homeostatic pressure contributed to the greater efficacy of a schedule of Evening Sleep with a phase-advancing light exposure as a countermeasure against attentional impairment, over a schedule of Morning Sleep with a phase-delaying light exposure. These results have important implications for managing patients with shift work disorder.