Interaction of age with shift-related sleep-wakefulness, sleepiness, performance, and social life

A Bonnefond, M Härmä, T Hakola, M Sallinen, I Kandolin, J Virkkala
Experimental Aging Research 2006, 32 (2): 185-208
It is not clear how the age-related changes in sleep are related to performance and subjective sleepiness at different time of the day. The aim of the present study was to study work shift related interactions of age with sleep-wakefulness, performance, and social life. A representative sample of aircraft maintenance workers in a continuous three-shift system was studied by a questionnaire (n = 275) and an on-site field (n = 49) study. In the field study, sleep length and quality and different ratings of social and other activities were studied with an actigraphy and a Pocket PC diary during 15 consecutive days. Subjective sleepiness (KSS) and vigilance performance (PVT) were registered at work. Although the shift type influenced the sleep, subjective sleepiness, performance, and social life, age was distinctly related only to shift-related changes in the amount of sleep, subjective sleepiness, and psychomotor vigilance. Night shifts were related with shorter sleep, decreased performance, and increased sleepiness. Although subjective sleepiness was greatest among the youngest (25-34 years) age group during the morning and the night shifts, the increase of performance lapses was higher among the middle-aged (35-49 years) and senior (50-58 years) groups during the night shifts compared to the youngest age group. According to the questionnaire, older shiftworkers also tended to perceive more frequently that subjective sleepiness decreases their work performance during the morning and night shifts. The results indicate of no direct link between age-related differences in subjective sleepiness and performance at night work. The shorter day sleep after the night shifts and higher deterioration of subjective and objective performance according to age urge on development of shift schedules aiming at lower fatigue levels during the night shifts.

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