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J Biol Rhythms. 2008 Aug;23(4):341-52. doi: 10.1177/0748730408319863.

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

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Division of Sleep Medicine, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, MA, USA.


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.

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