Scientists at the University of Warwick, jointly with those at Université Paris-Saclay, Inserm and Assistance Publique-Hôpitaux de Paris (France), have challenged the widespread belief that shift workers adjust to the night shift, using data drawn from wearable tech.
By monitoring groups of French hospital workers working day or night shifts during their working and free time, the researchers have not only shown that night work significantly disrupts both their sleep quality and their circadian rhythms, but also that workers can experience such disruption even after years of night shift work.
Their findings, reported in a study in the Lancet group journal eBioMedicine, are the most detailed analysis of the sleep and circadian rhythm profiles of shift workers yet attempted, and the first to also monitor body temperature. This key circadian rhythm is driven by the brain pacemaker clock, and coordinates the peripheral clocks in all organs.
The research demonstrates the value of telemonitoring technology for identifying early warning signs of disease risks associated with night-shift work opening up intervention opportunities to improve the health of workers.
The study compared 63 night-shift workers, working three or more nights of 10 hours each per week, and 77 day-shifters alternating morning and afternoon shifts at a single university hospital (Paul Brousse Hospital in Villejuif, near Paris). Both groups wore accelerometers with chest surface temperature sensors throughout the day and night for a full week, with the data collected by the research team at Université Paris-Saclay and Inserm.
The accelerometer measured movement intensity and allowed the researchers to estimate how much sleep the participants had, how regular were their circadian rhythms, and whether that sleep was disrupted by movement. Patterns in the chest surface temperature gave a further indication of the participants’ circadian rhythm, the internal body clock that coordinates rest-activity phases, varying core body temperature, and an array of other bodily rhythms.
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