Fatigue and shift work

J Sleep Res. 2006 Mar;15(1):1-5. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2869.2006.00493.x.


Shift work is a ubiquitous phenomenon and its adverse effects on workers' physical and mental health have been documented. In the sleep literature, differentiating between the symptoms of fatigue and sleepiness, and developing appropriate objective and subjective measures, have become very important endeavors. From such research, fatigue and sleepiness have been shown to be distinct and independent phenomena. However, it is not known whether shift work differentially affects fatigue and sleepiness. In an attempt to answer this question, 489 workers from a major Ontario employer completed a series of subjective, self-report questionnaires, including the Fatigue Severity Scale (FSS) and the Epworth Sleepiness Scale. Workers were separated into four groups based on the frequency with which they are engaged in shift work (never, fewer than four times per month, 1-2 days per week, 3 days or more per week). The frequency of shift work was found to have a significant effect on subjective fatigue, but not on subjective sleepiness. Compared with the subjects who never had a shift schedule, those who worked in a shift for 3 days or more had significantly higher mean score of the FSS. In agreement with previous results, a low correlation was found between workers' subjective fatigue and sleepiness scores, providing further support for the concept of fatigue and sleepiness as distinct and independent phenomena. Future research should address the possibility of using the FSS as an indicator when the frequency of shift work has become high enough to adversely affect work performance or cause health problems.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Disorders of Excessive Somnolence / diagnosis
  • Disorders of Excessive Somnolence / epidemiology
  • Fatigue / diagnosis
  • Fatigue / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sleep Disorders, Circadian Rhythm / epidemiology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires