Working on-call with a night call resulted in a depressed (lower) cortisol awakening response (CAR) peak and post-awakening cortisol area under the curve with respect to ground (AUCG) the following day compared to when off-call. This may be due to exposure to noise, physical exertion, and stressful events during night callouts. There was no anticipatory effect to working on-call in any of the cortisol measures examined. This study, of male fire and emergency service workers who operate on-call from home, had two aims: (1) examine CAR and diurnal cortisol profile following a night on-call with a call, on-call without a call, and off-call; and, (2) explore whether there is an anticipatory effect of working on-call from home on diurnal cortisol profiles. Participants wore activity monitors, completed sleep and work diaries and collected seven saliva samples a day (0 min, 30 min, 60 min, 3 h, 6 h, 9 h, and 12 h after final awakening) for one week. CAR peak, reactivity and area under the curve with respect to increase (AUCI), post-awakening cortisol AUCG, diurnal cortisol slope and AUCG, and mean 12-h cortisol concentrations were calculated. The final analysis included 26 participants for Aim 1 (22 off-call nights, 68 nights on-call without a call, and 20 nights on-call with a call) and 14 participants for Aim 2 (25 days leading up to a night off-call and 92 days leading up to a night on-call). Generalized estimating equations models were constructed for each variable of interest. Aim 1: CAR peak and post-awakening cortisol AUCG were 8.2 ± 3.4 nmol/L and 5.7 ± 2.4 units lower, respectively, following a night on-call with a call compared to an off-call night. Aim 2: the day before a night on-call was not a significant predictor in any model. The lower CAR peak and post-awakening cortisol AUCG following a night on-call with a call compared to following an off-call night may be due to exposure to noise, physical exertion, and stressful events during night callouts. The lack of difference between the day before a night on-call and the day before an off-call night suggests there may not be an anticipatory effect on cortisol when on-call from home.
Keywords: Cortisol awakening response (CAR); distal on-call; diurnal cortisol profile; firefighters; home call; state emergency service workers.