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Ergonomics. 2004 Feb 5;47(2):154-65.

Adaptation of performance during a week of simulated night work.

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The Centre for Sleep Research, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, South Australia.


This study aimed to provide a comparative index of the performance impairment associated with the fatigue levels frequently experienced in workplaces that require night work. To do this, we equated fatigue-related impairment with the impairment resulting from varying levels of alcohol intoxication. Fifteen young individuals participated in two counterbalanced conditions which required them to (1). 'work' seven consecutive 8-h night shifts, and (2). consume an alcoholic beverage at hourly intervals until their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) reached 0.10%. In each condition, performance was measured at hourly intervals using a 10-min psychomotor vigilance task (PVT). Analysis indicated that as BAC increased, performance impairment significantly increased. Similarly, response times significantly increased during the first six simulated night-shifts, and lapse frequency significantly increased during the first two shifts. Equating the two conditions indicated that the first simulated night shift was associated with the greatest degree of performance impairment. In general, the impairment at the end of this shift was greater than that observed at a BAC of 0.10%. During the second and third simulated night shifts, the performance impairment was less than on the first night, but greater than that observed at a BAC of 0.05%. For the final four nights, the performance decrements generally did not exceed those observed at a BAC of 0.05%. This suggests that during a week of consecutive night shifts, adaptation of performance occurs.

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