Mar 14, 2008

Study finds returning to night shift increases errors

The Chicago Tribune today published an article Shift work takes focus off the job that discusses a Harvard Medical School study which found that shiftworkers returning to the night shift after a stretch of day shifts are less able to maintain alertness and focus. The researchers found test subjects made errors in visual search tests.

The study's lead researcher pointed out that this can have real consequencces. For instance, "An airport security screener, for example, switching from day to night shifts without a break could be affected and make errors on a visual search test, such as screening luggage for weapons."

The article concludes by citing one shiftworker, a nurse named Kathy Koch, and says "Sleep for Koch, fortunately, comes easily. 'I can sleep in the sun,' she said. 'I can sleep anywhere, anytime.'"

I need to comment on this last line because it's a little pet project of mine. When people are able to sleep in the sun, anywhere, anytime, that generally is not a good thing. In most cases that's a sign of accumulated sleep deficit. A person may not be getting enough sleeping time, or may suffer from sleep apnea or some other sleep disorder. Either way, characterizing that as "fortunate" is putting a positive spin on what is far more likely to be a health and safety concern.

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