Morningness, eveningness and the problem of shift work
Shift work is common in many industries, including health care, security, transport and communication. Such sectors need employees to maintain high levels of attention in order to minimise risk. But working shifts is known to lead to cognitive and behavioural problems through disrupted circadian rhythms and sleep patterns. Selvi, Karakaş, Boysan and Selvi find that shift work affects attention deficit, hyperactivity, and impulsivity among nurses, and that an individual’s chronotype – their ‘morningness’ or ‘eveningness’ – is a relevant factor. They suggest that a person’s chronotype could help to evaluate their suitability for shift work.
It has been known for some time that shift-work schedules have a marked effect on circadian rhythms and the sleep–wakefulness cycle, leading to cognitive and behavioural problems. In this study, Selvi, Karakaş, Boysan and Selvi survey 206 hospital nurses, 79 working on day shifts and 127 on night shifts. They use the Barrett Impulsiveness Scale, a 30-item questionnaire, to measure the nurses’ motor impulsiveness, non-planning, and attentional impulsiveness. The Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder self-report scale V1.1 symptoms checklist (ASRS V1.1), an 18-item scale, is used to measure how frequently the individuals experience symptoms of inattentiveness and hyperactivity/impulsiveness, with the scores for these two types of symptoms giving a total ASRS value.
Selvi et al. also identify the nurses’ circadian preferences using the Morningness–Eveningness Questionnaire (MEQ). This measure classifies individuals as morning-types, intermediate-types or evening-types, according to their reported times of activity and alertness.
Among the findings of the study are that shift workers have more attention deficit and impulsivity than daytime workers. Looking at the nurses’ chronotypes, Selvie et al. find that evening-type workers score significantly higher than morning-type employees for attention deficit. Morning-type workers report lower hyperactivity and total ASRS scores than evening- and intermediate-type workers.
The researchers also analyse impulsivity scores in relation to the nurses’ demographic characteristics – age, gender, marital status, working schedule, time in employment, tobacco use and duration of smoking – as well as to MEQ and the scores for the ARSR symptoms. This reveals that unmarried participants and shift-workers have significantly higher impulsivity scores. The average impulsivity score of evening-type workers is higher than those of both the other chronotypes.
Selvie Karakaş, Boysan and Selvi comment: “The most important outcome of this study was that those working on the shift system had more attention deficit and more impulsivity than the daytime workers. Even though the effects of shift work on cognitive functions have been analyzed before, this is the first study that has investigated the relationship between the work schedule and attention deficit, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.”
The additional findings regarding workers’ chronotypes will be of practical use to employers: assessing whether individuals are morning-types or evening-types will help to determine their suitability for shift work.
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