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J Sleep Res. 2004 Dec;13(4):285-94.

The effects of sleep debt and monotonous work on sleepiness and performance during a 12-h dayshift.

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Brain and Work Research Units, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Helsinki, Finland.


The study examined the effects of the amount of preceding sleep and work pace on sleepiness and cognitive performance during a 12-h dayshift. Twelve process operators (aged 28-56 years) completed a study with four single 12-h dayshifts and preceding night sleep in the laboratory. A simulated distillation process served as a work task. The 12-h shifts differed from each other in terms of the amount of preceding night sleep (23:00-06:30 hours or 2:30-6:30 hours) and work pace (slow or fast). All shifts contained four work simulation sessions of 1.5 h, and each of them included a 15-min alarm session. Cognitive performance was also measured with a 10-choice reaction time test and a mental subtraction test. Objective sleepiness was measured with a continuous electroencephalography/electro-oculography (EEG/EOG) recording during the work periods and with a sleep latency test. Subjective sleepiness at work was measured with the Karolinska Sleepiness Scale. Sleep debt increased the proportion of EEG/EOG-defined and subjective sleepiness at work, but did not impair work or test performance. The fatiguing effect of monotonous work as indicated by EEG/EOG-defined sleepiness was comparable with the effect of sleep debt. The alarm epochs in the middle of monotonous work temporarily decreased EEG/EOG-defined sleepiness. Sleep debt or monotonous work did not have a significant effect on the results of the sleep latency test. None of the sleepiness or performance measures indicated the impairment of a subject's functional capacity at the end of the 12-h shift. Our results suggest that monotonous work is at least as harmful as moderate sleep debt for alertness at work. The results support the view that the last hours of a single 12-h dayshift with frequent pauses are not associated with an increase in sleepiness or performance errors.

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