Circadian adaptation to night shift work influences sleep, performance, mood and the autonomic modulation of the heart

PLoS One. 2013 Jul 26;8(7):e70813. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0070813. Print 2013.


Our aim was to investigate how circadian adaptation to night shift work affects psychomotor performance, sleep, subjective alertness and mood, melatonin levels, and heart rate variability (HRV). Fifteen healthy police officers on patrol working rotating shifts participated to a bright light intervention study with 2 participants studied under two conditions. The participants entered the laboratory for 48 h before and after a series of 7 consecutive night shifts in the field. The nighttime and daytime sleep periods were scheduled during the first and second laboratory visit, respectively. The subjects were considered "adapted" to night shifts if their peak salivary melatonin occurred during their daytime sleep period during the second visit. The sleep duration and quality were comparable between laboratory visits in the adapted group, whereas they were reduced during visit 2 in the non-adapted group. Reaction speed was higher at the end of the waking period during the second laboratory visit in the adapted compared to the non-adapted group. Sleep onset latency (SOL) and subjective mood levels were significantly reduced and the LF∶HF ratio during daytime sleep was significantly increased in the non-adapted group compared to the adapted group. Circadian adaptation to night shift work led to better performance, alertness and mood levels, longer daytime sleep, and lower sympathetic dominance during daytime sleep. These results suggest that the degree of circadian adaptation to night shift work is associated to different health indices. Longitudinal studies are required to investigate long-term clinical implications of circadian misalignment to atypical work schedules.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Adult
  • Affect / physiology*
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Darkness
  • Female
  • Heart Rate*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Melatonin / metabolism*
  • Psychomotor Performance*
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Wakefulness
  • Work Schedule Tolerance / physiology*


  • Melatonin

Grant support

This work was supported by the Institut de Recherche Robert-Sauvé en Santé et en Sécurité du Travail. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.