Tweaking night owls’ sleeping habits could help improve worker performance, safety and mental health, a new study has shown.
Published in Sleep Medicine, the study — which looked at the effects of changing sleeping behaviours in 22 healthy people over three weeks — found that stricter sleeping habits improved people’s cognitive (reaction time) and physical (grip strength) performance.
They also helped decrease people’s perceived levels of depression, stress and morning tiredness.
Under the new regime, participants went to sleep and woke up two to three hours earlier than usual, with minimal light exposure at night and maximal outdoor light in the morning, and kept the same sleep/wake times on work days and free days.
Participants were also instructed to eat breakfast as soon as they woke up, have lunch at the same time each day and refrain from eating dinner after 7 pm.
Comparatively, people who continued with later, less structured sleep and wake times and were only instructed to eat lunch at the same time each day tended to be sleepier in the morning, have higher perceived levels of depression and stress, and perform best in the evening.
According to the researchers, the study’s knowledge and sleep regime could be used to help industries maximise workers’ productivity and optimise their performance at certain times, under different conditions.
This could be particularly helpful for ‘night owls’ who may be being negatively impacted by the typical nine-to-five work day.
“Having a late sleep pattern puts you at odds with the standard societal days, which can lead to a range of adverse outcomes — from daytime sleepiness to poorer mental wellbeing,” said the study’s co-author, Dr Andrew Bagshaw of the University of Birmingham.
“Establishing simple routines could help night owls adjust their body clocks and improve their overall physical and mental health. Insufficient levels of sleep and circadian misalignment can disrupt many bodily processes, putting us at increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes,” added the University of Surrey’s Professor Debra Skene, who also worked on the study.
Finally, lead researcher Dr Elise Facer-Childs, from Monash University’s Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health, said: “By acknowledging these differences and providing tools to improve outcomes, we can go a long way in a society that is under constant pressure to achieve optimal productivity and performance.”
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