Rapid shift in sleep time and acrophase of melatonin secretion in short shift work schedule

Sleep. 1996 Sep;19(7):539-43.


Tolerance to shift work and adaptability to shifting schedules is an issue of growing importance in industrialized society. We studied 40 registered nurses, 20 on fixed day-shifts and 20 on fixed night-shifts, to assess whether workers with rapidly shifting schedules were able to adapt their melatonin secretion and sleep-wake cycles. The day-shift worked 5 days with 2 days off and the night-shift worked 3 nights with 2 off. All night-shift personnel acknowledged shifting back to daytime schedules on their days off. Sleep-wake was determined by sleep logs and actigraphy. To measure 6-sulfatoxymelatonin levels, urine was collected at 2-hour intervals on the last work day and on the last day off. Night-shift workers slept significantly more on days off. Napping on the job occurred in 9/20 night-shift workers (mean 114 minutes) between 3 and 6 a.m. The acrophase of 6-sulfatoxymelatonin in day-shift nurses occurred at similar times on workdays and off days. In night-shift nurses, the acrophase was about 7 a.m. on days off, but had a random distribution on workdays. Further analysis revealed two subgroups of night-shift nurses: six subjects (group A).demonstrated a rapid shift in melatonin secretion (acrophase at near 12 noon on work days and at near 7 a.m. on days off) while 14 nurses (group B) did not shift. Group A nurses slept more in the daytime on work days and their total sleep time was the same as day-shift nurses. Group A was slightly younger and was composed solely of women (there were nine women and five men in group B). Age may be a factor in the ability to adapt to rapidly shifting schedules.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Circadian Rhythm*
  • Employment*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Melatonin / metabolism*
  • Sleep*
  • Wakefulness


  • Melatonin