Controlled patterns of daytime light exposure improve circadian adjustment in simulated night work

Marie Dumont, Hélène Blais, Joanie Roy, Jean Paquet
Journal of Biological Rhythms 2009, 24 (5): 427-37
Circadian misalignment between the endogenous circadian signal and the imposed rest-activity cycle is one of the main sources of sleep and health troubles in night shift workers. Timed bright light exposure during night work can reduce circadian misalignment in night workers, but this approach is limited by difficulties in incorporating bright light treatment into most workplaces. Controlled light and dark exposure during the daytime also has a significant impact on circadian phase and could be easier to implement in real-life situations. The authors previously described distinctive light exposure patterns in night nurses with and without circadian adaptation. In the present study, the main features of these patterns were used to design daytime light exposure profiles. Profiles were then tested in a laboratory simulation of night work to evaluate their efficacy in reducing circadian misalignment in night workers. The simulation included 2 day shifts followed by 4 consecutive night shifts (2400-0800 h). Healthy subjects (15 men and 23 women; 20-35 years old) were divided into 3 groups to test 3 daytime light exposure profiles designed to produce respectively a phase delay (delay group, n=12), a phase advance (advance group, n=13), or an unchanged circadian phase (stable group, n=13). In all 3 groups, light intensity was set at 50 lux during the nights of simulated night work. Salivary dim light melatonin onset (DLMO) showed a significant phase advance of 2.3 h (+/-1.3 h) in the advance group and a significant phase delay of 4.1 h (+/-1.3 h) in the delay group. The stable group showed a smaller but significant phase delay of 1.7 h (+/-1.6 h). Urinary 6-sulfatoxymelatonin (aMT6s) acrophases were highly correlated to salivary DLMOs. Urinary aMT6s acrophases were used to track daily phase shifts. They showed that phase shifts occurred rapidly and differed between the 3 groups by the 3rd night of simulated night work. These results show that significant phase shifts can be achieved in night workers by controlling daytime light exposure, with no nighttime intervention.

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