Melatonin, Sleep, and Shift Work Adaptation

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Night work is associated with disrupted circadian rhythms, fatigue, accidents, and chronic disease. Melatonin secretion helps regulate sleep and circadian rhythms.


Melatonin, sleep disturbances, and symptoms (sleep, fatigue, mental) were compared among workers on permanent day, swing, and night shifts.


Urinary 6-hydroxymelatonin sulfate (6-OHMS) was measured in postwork and postsleep samples. Disrupted circadian melatonin production was evaluated using the sleep:work 6-OHMS ratio. Wrist actigraphy characterized light exposures and sleep characteristics.


Night workers had altered melatonin, disrupted sleep, and elevated symptom prevalence. Subjects grouped by their sleep:work 6-OHMS ratio rather than shift had even greater symptom prevalence. Risks for two or more symptoms were 3.5 to 8 times greater among workers with sleep:work ratios ≤1 compared to those with ratios >1.


This ratio may help identify workers at increased risk for accidents or injuries.

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