Shift workers who work nights or on rotating schedules often suffer from “social jet lag” — a condition that occurs when sleep is lost because daily schedules don’t match the body’s natural rhythms. Researchers recently reported in Current Biology that sleep and general well-being could be improved if work schedules took workers’ biological clocks into account.
As part of an experiment endorsed by the former labor director at ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe, factory workers were assigned to schedules based on their normal sleep patterns. Morning people were never made to work late and night owls were never forced to get up early for work. Those with an intermediate preference served as controls for the research.
With adjusted schedules, workers felt more satisfied with the sleep they did get and experienced slight improvements in their general wellbeing. They slept more on work nights and less on their free days, thus creating more opportunities for socialization due to a decreased need to catch up on an accumulating sleep loss.
The new scheduling method reduced social jet lag–the difference between the midpoint of workers’ sleep on work versus free days–by one hour. The improvements weren’t as great for those who naturally prefer to stay up late, however. (If you consider yourself a night owl, keep in mind that people who like to stay up late aren’t actually nocturnal. Night work is hard on everyone.)