Cortisol, reaction time test and health among offshore shift workers.Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2010 Oct; 35(9):1339-47.P
The stress hormone cortisol shows a pronounced endogenous diurnal rhythm, which is affected by the sleep/wake cycle, meals and activity. Shift work and especially night work disrupts the sleep/wake cycle and causes a desynchronization of the natural biological rhythms. Therefore, different shift schedules may have different impact on performance at work and health.
The purpose was to study if health, reaction time, and the cortisol rhythm were negatively affected when a group of shift workers changed their work schedule from ordinary day-night shift (fixed shift) to "swing shift".
METHODS AND SETTINGS
19 healthy workers on a Norwegian oil rig participated in the study. They worked 2 weeks offshore followed by 4 weeks off work. The ordinary schedule consisted of 12-h day shift and 12-h night shift every other work period (14 days or nights=fixed shift). "Swing shift" involved 1 week of night shift, followed by 1 week of day shift during the work period. All participants worked ordinary day-night shift when baseline data were collected (questionnaires, saliva cortisol, and reaction time during work). After collection of baseline data the workers changed their work schedule to "swing shift", for every working period, and 9 months later the same data were collected.
"Swing shift" did not give any negative health effects or any negative changes in reaction time during the day they shifted from night work to day work. Personnel adapted to night shift within a week regardless of schedule, but recovery from night shift took longer time. During swing shift the cortisol rhythm went back towards a normal rhythm in the second week, but it was not returned completely to normal values when they returned home for the 4 weeks off period. However, the cortisol rhythms were readapted to normal values after 1 week at home. For personnel returning home directly from 14 consecutive night shifts, cortisol adaptation was not complete after 1 week at home.
We found no increase in health complaints from swing shift or reaction time in the shift from night to day work. Recovery from night shift takes longer time.