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Shift work has ‘significant’ impact on sleep health, study of Australian miners finds

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Perth, Australia — It’s “imperative” that employers try to improve work shift scheduling so workers can get adequate sleep, researchers from Edith Cowan University say after their recent study of mine workers in Australia.

The researchers monitored the sleep habits of 75 “fly-in, fly-out” mine workers, who didn’t live near the mine and were transported to and from the jobsite. Participants wore activity tracking devices for three weeks during a “two and one” work rotation – a schedule of seven day shifts followed by seven night shifts and then a return home for a week off.

The participants were asked about their sleep and lifestyle behaviors. Findings show that shifts that started at 6 a.m. required a wake-up time of 4 a.m. and caused a “significant” sleep loss. Sleep duration was 30 minutes shorter before day shifts and 77 minutes shorter after each night shift, resulting in an “accumulated sleep debt” before the miners’ off week.

The miners typically worked shifts of 12-plus hours, in addition to time spent traveling, eating, exercising or relaxing. Also, 3 out of 5 of the miners were considered “at risk” of developing obstructive sleep apnea, shift work sleep disorder or another sleep disorder.

“When all these activities were combined, it leaves little opportunity to get eight hours of sleep,” study supervisor Ian Dunican said in a press release. “The reality is many workers are getting less than seven hours of sleep per night.”

 

The researchers point out that the findings may apply to shift workers in industries such as health care, manufacturing, logistics and travel. Along with making sure workers have a chance to get adequate rest, employers can help by adjusting shift start times and educating workers on good sleep health practices. In addition, employers should support screening workers for sleep disorders and help those who need treatment get it.

The study was published online Oct. 23 in Applied Ergonomics.

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