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The main objective was to determine whether sleep duration on work shifts mediates the relationship between a current alternating day and night shift work schedule and metabolic syndrome among female hospital employees. The secondary objective was to assess whether cumulative lifetime shift work exposure was associated with metabolic syndrome.In this cross-sectional study of 294 female hospital employees, sleep duration was measured with the ActiGraph GT3X+. Shift work status was determined through self-report. Investigation of the total, direct and indirect effects between shift work, sleep duration on work shifts and metabolic syndrome was conducted using regression path analysis. Logistic regression was used to determine the association between cumulative shift work exposure and metabolic syndrome.Shift work is strongly associated with metabolic syndrome (ORTotal=2.72, 95% CI 1.38 to 5.36), and the relationship is attenuated when work shift sleep duration is added to the model (ORDirect=1.18, 95% CI 0.49 to 2.89). Sleep duration is an important intermediate between shift work and metabolic syndrome (ORIndirect=2.25, 95% CI 1.27 to 4.26). Cumulative shift work exposure is not associated with metabolic syndrome in this population.Sleep duration mediates the association between a current alternating day–night shift work pattern and metabolic syndrome.