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Sleep health experts release guidance on customizing shift-work duration

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Darien, IL — In an effort to balance “the need to meet operational demands with the need to manage fatigue-related risks” related to shift work, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society have issued guidance on designing optimal work shift durations.

Multiple studies have linked shift work to adverse effects on employee health and safety, including obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease and fatigue. “Historically, shift duration guidance has set maximum shift durations in a one-size-fits-all approach that focused primarily on physical fatigue,” Indira Gurubhagavatula, corresponding study author and a physician of sleep medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, said in an AASM press release. “Rather than provide a single, generic recommendation, these new guiding principles involve taking a more holistic view when setting customized shift durations for each individual workplace, considering not just physical fatigue, but mental fatigue, time of day, job requirements, safety risks, lifestyle factors and health.”

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Among the guiding principles:

  • Factors such as workload and commute time contribute to the impact of shift duration on performance, safety and health outcomes.
  • Countermeasures such as strategic napping and caffeine consumption can reduce, but don’t necessarily eliminate, adverse outcomes associated with shift duration.
  • The decision-making process about shift duration should be fully informed, transparent and based on scientific evidence.
  • The decision-making process about shift duration should faithfully represent the interests of all stakeholders and respect the legitimacy of these interests.
  • Deliberations, policies and documentation regarding shift duration should be supported by an organization’s safety management architecture.

The guiding principles were published online July 15 in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine and SLEEP.

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