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Int J Neurosci. 1998 Jul;95(1-2):43-50.

Sleep and alertness during alternating monophasic and polyphasic rest-activity cycles.

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Aeronautica Militare Italiana, Istituto Medico Legale, Reparto Neurologia, Roma.


People involved in shift work often have to face altered patterns of sleep and wakefulness. This is particularly true for schedules involving night shifts and/or fragmentation of duty periods throughout the 24-hr day. In such conditions, it can be difficult to obtain satisfactory periods of sleep, and sleepiness on duty is a frequent and dangerous occurrence. The aim of this study was to evaluate sleep and wakefulness periods of subjects whose work schedule was characterized by an alternation of 2 hours of activity and 4 hours of rest (sleep allowed), repeated 4 times throughout the 24-hr day. This schedule was alternated with 24 hours off duty. Nine healthy male volunteers were monitored by means of ambulatory polysomnography while attending their 24-hr rest-activity schedule. Sleep periods were visually scored according to standard criteria. Wake periods were visually scored using both 30 s and 5 s epochs in order to reveal episodes of drowsiness and/or microsleep. Results showed that total sleep time was substantially reduced as compared to the usual 7-8 hour monophasic nocturnal sleep. Subjects did not sleep during the first rest period (11.00-15.00). Time in sleep linearly increased in the course of the 3 remaining rest periods. Normal sleep stage distribution was substantially spared only in the last rest period (3.00-7.00 a.m.). With regard to duty periods, only a few microsleeps were detected and their number did not significantly vary across the four 2-hr activity periods. In conclusion, this rest-activity schedule, despite the considerable sleep reduction, allowed maintaining good levels of vigilance as shown by the virtual absence of EEG microsleeps. Whether future research will prove that this regimen does not cause an impairment of performance, it should be a suitable strategy for the management of continuous operations.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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