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Chronobiol Int. 2010 Jul;27(5):1031-44. doi: 10.3109/07420528.2010.489502.

How do the timing and length of a night-shift nap affect sleep inertia?

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  • 1National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, Kawasaki, Japan.


Napping is one strategy that may assist night shiftworkers to cope with sleepiness and fatigue. However, one potential disadvantage of napping is that awakening from naps is disturbed by sleep inertia, which has also been found to impair performance and/or mood, transiently. The authors examined the effects of the timing and length of a night-shift nap on sleep inertia in a laboratory setting. Twelve male university students (mean +/- SD: 21.6 +/- 2.8 yrs) participated in this 3-day experiment, during which included a simulated night shift (22:00-08:00 h) and subsequent day (11:30-17:30 h) and night sleep (00:00-07:00 h). The simulated night shift was designed to include one of five (four nap/one no-nap) conditions. The napping conditions differed by their timing and duration: 00:00-01:00 h (Early 60 min; E60), 00:00-02:00 h (Early 120 min; E120), 04:00-05:00 h (Late 60 min; L60), 04:00-06:00 h (Late 120 min; L120). Participants completed all the experimental conditions in a counterbalanced order. Rectal temperature (R(T)) was recorded throughout the simulated shift and polysomnography (PSG) was recorded during the nap period. Immediately before and after each nap, participants were required to complete a visual analogue scale (VAS) to assess sleepiness and a visual vigilance test (VVT). During the simulated night shift, a set of tasks (an English transcription task, a performance test battery, and a break) was repeated hourly, except during the periods of napping. For each nap condition, the VAS and VVT (reaction time [RT]; lapses >5 s) results were analyzed by two-way, repeated-measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) (nap [nap versus no-nap] x time point [pre-nap versus post-nap]). PSG and R(T) data were analyzed with one-way repeated-measures ANOVA. Marginally significant interactions were observed for RTs and lapses in VVT for the L60 nap condition (p = .071 and p = .070, respectively). However, those effect sizes were moderate (partial eta(2) = 0.266, 0.268, respectively). Post hoc analyses showed significantly longer RTs (p < .05) and more lapses (p < .05) following the L60 nap compared with no nap. In contrast, there was no significant difference in sleepiness between the L60, or any of the other nap conditions, and the no-nap condition. Our findings suggest the effect of sleep inertia on VVT performance was profound in the L60 condition, although no significant effects on sleepiness were self-reported by VAS. The dissociation between performance and sleepiness might reflect an unstable state where participants cannot perceive decline in their performance. The present findings are significant in terms of occupational safety; the practical implication is that great care is needed when taking a 1-h nap between 04:00 and 05:00 h on the night shift.

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