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Shift work is defined as working arrangements outside of the standard 8-hour workday, often cycling around a 24-hour period. Over 4 million people in the UK are currently engaged in shift work to meet the increasing demand for 24-hour services and productivity. However, shift work presents a specific physiological challenge as it forcefully disrupts the circadian system and our sleep-wake cycles, resulting in acute sleep deprivation, chronic sleep deficiency and misalignment of internal circadian rhythms. Consequently, shift workers experience excessive fatigue during working hours, resulting in impaired alertness and performance and increased risk of accidents and injuries. The consequences also manifest in poorer physical and mental health outcomes, with higher rates of chronic illnesses, such as cardiometabolic diseases and cancer, depression and anxiety, as well as significant disruption to family and social lives.

Effective countermeasures to mitigate the deleterious effects of shift work include organisational level strategies, such as maximising time between shifts, and individual-level strategies, including prioritising sleep and recovery before and after work periods, effective timing of light and caffeine to optimise performance and alertness, and maintaining healthy lifestyle habits. Within the SCNi we strive to perform high-quality workplace-based prevention research to better inform shift workers, their families, organisations, and policy makers about appropriate interventions.

Our team

  • Russell Foster
    Russell Foster

    Head of the Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology and the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute

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