Rest and sleep are fundamental to a worker’s ability to function normally and carry out tasks efficiently and safely. There is also a strong relationship between sleep and physical health and mental wellbeing. And shift work and rotating rosters are known to interfere with sleep patterns and impair cognitive function. In fact, it’s believed that working night shift reduces average sleep by around 2 hours in any 24-hour period.
But now, UK researchers have identified a roster pattern that does not affect the alertness of workers.
The University of Leeds’ Institute for Transport Studies monitored 23 police officers and staff on a 10-day forward rotating shift pattern. The pattern involved two morning, two afternoon, and two night shifts (between 8-10 hours each) followed by four days off.
Researchers found that the participants didn’t experience any significant sleep loss or impaired cognitive skills. They found the participants were able to perform cognitive and vigilance tests to a satisfactory standard at any time during their shift schedule. As to why this particular pattern is so effective? It’s believed the fast rotating nature of the pattern doesn’t allow workers to adjust to any particular shift.
“Many individuals, such as police and other emergency service personnel, work at night, and are thus required to function when alertness, vigilance and cognitive reasoning are at their lowest,” researchers say.
The study also referenced existing research that has shown rotating shift patterns cause more sleep related problems than fixed shifts, due to the misalignment of circadian phases.
“For example, self-reporting questionnaire studies of hospital-based nurses, showed that, when compared to day shift nurses, those working rotating shifts had more sleep disruption and were more prone to ‘nodding off’ at work”
“This group of nurses were also more likely to nod off whilst driving home, or be involved in reportable vehicle collisions and errors associated with sleepiness.”
The researchers say their findings will have important implications for all working populations with rotating work patterns.