New research helps night-shift workers stay alert and productive
Marc Hébert, an associate professor in ophthalmology at Université Laval, is an internationally renowned expert in depression-fighting light therapy and biological rhythms.
Hébert has spent most of the last decade studying workers who work through the night, with the aim of finding ways to help these workers deal with the mental and physical challenges of working while when their body naturally wants to sleep.
Hébert studied the workers at AbitibiBowater‘s sawmill in the Lac St. Jean region of Quebec for two years. Through his studies on the sawmill workers, Hébert believes he has discovered a way to trick the brain of night shift workers to stay alert during their night shift, and then sleep better after their shift was over.
To do this, Hébert exposed the night shift workers to bluegreen light from two therapeutic lights. The light mimicked natural morning light. This light caused the workers’ bodies to slow their production of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone your body produces to maintain its circadian rhythm. At night time, the melatonin production makes you drowsy, and helps lower your body’s temperature, to make you go to sleep. In the morning, as the sun rises, your body produces less melatonin.
The workers at the sawmill were also given special glasses to wear at the end of their shifts that subdued blue light, and other wavelengths, that cue your body to wake up. The glasses helped the men safely drive home from work before going to sleep.
As a bonus, Hébert’s study showed the workers’ had a noted increase in their workplace performance. The workers were lumber graders and their error rate shifted from 5% on night shifts to just 1.5%.
Health Canada financed the study with $200,000.
Read more about the study:
Bright outlook for graveyard shift – Special glasses trick brain to improve productivity of night workers, study shows (The Vancouver Sun)
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