How Atypical Work Schedules Affect Performance

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Date:
Monday, December 10, 2012

adequate sleep, including difficulties sleeping during daylight hours because of the need to attend to domestic duties, or the needs of another job, lack of a quiet, dark bedroom, and back-to-back or rotating shifts that limit sleep opportunities or ability to adjust. There is also a physiological alerting process during the day that hampers sleep at that time and contributes to sleep fragmentation. Although naps help make up for the loss of sleep shift workers experience, they do not adequately repay sleep debt, and in some cases are not long enough for people to reap the benefits of the deeper sleep stages. Consequently, one-third of shift workers state that they sleep less than six hours per night on workdays, and 30 percent report that they only get a good night’s sleep a few night’s per month or less. (NSF, 2008)

Some speculate that night shift workers will eventually adjust to their odd hours, especially if they maintain being awake at night on their days off. But there is little support for this contention. (Folkard, 2008) Instead, research reveals that night shifts result in greater loss of total sleep time that accumulates over successive night shifts. (Pilcher et al, 2000; Park et al, 2000) Some workers experience sleep disturbance and sleepiness even after months or years of shift work. (Drake and Wright, 2011)

Reduced alertness and accidents
The lack of sleep shift workers typically experience makes them less alert and more prone to accidents. Studies have linked sleepiness and fatigue to decreases in vigilance, reaction time, memory, psychomotor coordination, information processing, and decision making, all of which are needed to safely and effectively perform a variety of work tasks, as well as to safely drive home from work. (Lyznicki et al, 1998) Some studies find the degree of impairment experienced by shift workers can easily reach levels equivalent to that of being drunk. For example, one study found that medical residents on heavy call rotations had driving impairments similar to those on light call rotations with a blood alcohol concentrations of .05%. (Arnedt et al, 2005)

Consequently, shift workers are more