Relationship of chronotype to sleep, light exposure, and work-related fatigue in student workers

Jeanne Sophie Martin, Marc Hébert, Elise Ledoux, Michaël Gaudreault, Luc Laberge
Chronobiology International 2012, 29 (3): 295-304
Students who work during the school year face the potential of sleep deprivation and its effects, since they have to juggle between school and work responsibilities along with social life. This may leave them with less time left for sleep than their nonworking counterparts. Chronotype is a factor that may exert an influence on the sleep of student workers. Also, light and social zeitgebers may have an impact on the sleep-related problems of this population. This study aimed to document sleep, light exposure patterns, social rhythms, and work-related fatigue of student workers aged 19-21 yrs and explore possible associations with chronotype. A total of 88 student workers (mean ± SD: 20.18 ± .44 yrs of age; 36 males/52 females) wore an actigraph (Actiwatch-L; Mini-Mitter/Respironics,Bend, OR) and filled out the Social Rhythm Metric for two consecutive weeks during the school year. Also, they completed the Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire (MEQ), Epworth Sleepiness Scale (ESS), Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), and Occupational Fatigue Exhaustion/Recovery Scale (OFER). Repeated and one-way analyses of variance (ANOVAs), Pearson's chi-square tests, and correlation coefficients were used for statistical comparisons. Subjects slept an average of 06:28 h/night. Actigraphic sleep parameters, such as sleep duration, sleep efficiency, wake after sleep onset, and sleep latency, did not differ between chronotypes. Results also show that evening types (n = 17) presented lower subjective sleep quality than intermediate types (n = 58) and morning types (n = 13). Moreover, evening types reported higher levels of chronic work-related fatigue, exhibited less regular social rhythms, and were exposed to lower levels of light during their waking hours (between 2 and 11 h after wake time) as compared to intermediate types and morning types. In addition, exposure to light intensities between 100 and 500 lux was lower in evening types than in intermediate types and morning types. However, bright light exposure (≥ 1000 lux) did not differ between chronotypes. In conclusion, results suggest that student workers may constitute a high-risk population for sleep deprivation. Evening types seemed to cope less well with sleep deprivation, reporting poorer sleep quality and higher levels of work-related fatigue than intermediate types and morning types. The higher chronic work-related fatigue of evening types may be linked to their attenuated level of light exposure and weaker social zeitgebers. These results add credence to the hypothesis that eveningness entails a higher risk of health-impairing behaviors.

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