Do permanent night workers show circadian adjustment? A review based on the endogenous melatonin rhythm

Chronobiol Int. 2008 Apr;25(2):215-24. doi: 10.1080/07420520802106835.


"Permanent" or "fixed" night shifts have been argued to offer a potential benefit over rotating shift systems in that they may serve to maximize circadian adjustment and hence minimize the various health and safety problems associated with night work. For this reason, some authors have argued in favor of permanent shift systems, but their arguments assume at least a substantial, if not complete, adjustment of the circadian clock. They have emphasized the finding that the day sleeps taken between successive night shifts by permanent night workers are rather longer than those of either slowly or rapidly rotating shift workers, but this could simply reflect increased pressure for sleep. The present paper reviews the literature on the adjustment to permanent night work of the circadian rhythm in the secretion of melatonin, which is generally considered to be the best known indicator of the state of the endogenous circadian body clock. Studies of workers in "abnormal" environments, such as oil rigs and remote mining operations, were excluded, as the nature of these unique settings might serve to assist adjustment. The results of the six studies included indicate that only a very small minority (<3%) of permanent night workers evidence "complete"adjustment of their endogenous melatonin rhythm to night work, less than one in four permanent night workers evidence sufficiently "substantial" adjustment to derive any benefit from it, there is no difference between studies conducted in normal or dim lighting, and there is no evidence of gender difference in the adjustment to permanent night work. It is concluded that in normal environments, permanent night-shift systems are unlikely to result in sufficient circadian adjustment in most individuals to benefit health and safety.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Clocks
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Melatonin / metabolism*
  • Sleep
  • Work Schedule Tolerance / physiology*


  • Melatonin