How to Use Light and Dark to Produce Circadian Adaptation to Night Shift Work

Ann Med. 1999 Apr;31(2):87-98. doi: 10.3109/07853899908998783.


The circadian rhythms of night shift workers do not usually adjust to their unusual work and sleep schedules, reducing their quality of life and producing potentially dangerous health and safety problems. This paper reviews field studies of simulated night work in which shifted light-dark cycles were constructed with artificial bright or medium-intensity light to produce circadian adaptation, ie the shifting of circadian rhythms to align with night work and day sleep schedules. By using these studies we describe fundamental principles of human circadian rhythms relevant to producing circadian adaptation to night shift work at a level designed for the reader with only a basic knowledge of circadian rhythms. These principles should enable the reader to start designing work/sleep-light/dark schedules for producing circadian adaptation in night shift workers. One specific schedule is presented as an example. Finally, we discuss phase-response curves to light and clarify common misconceptions about the production of circadian rhythm phase shifts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Circadian Rhythm*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Personnel Staffing and Scheduling*
  • Phototherapy / methods*