Sleepiness and driving events in shift workers: the impact of circadian and homeostatic factors

Megan D. Mulhall, Tracey L. Sletten, Michelle Magee, Julia E. Stone, Saranea Ganesan, Allison Collins, Clare Anderson, Steven W. Lockley, Mark E. Howard, Shantha M. W. Rajaratnam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


We aimed to characterize objective and subjective sleepiness and driving events during short work commutes and examine the impact of circadian and homeostatic factors across different shift types in a shift worker population. Thirty-three nurses were monitored for 2 weeks over day (07:00-15:30), evening (13:00-21:30), and night shifts (21:00-07:30). Sleep was measured via daily sleep logs and wrist actigraphy. Driving logs were completed for each work commute, reporting driving events and a predrive Karolinska Sleepiness Scale (KSS). Ocular data from a subset of participants (n = 11) assessed objective sleepiness using infrared oculography during commutes. Circadian phase was assessed at three time points via urinary 6-sulphatoxymelatonin (aMT6s) collected over 24-48 hours. Subjective and objective sleepiness and sleep-related and hazardous driving events significantly increased following night shift compared with preshift. There were significant shift differences with KSS, sleep-related and inattention-related events highest during the postnight shift commute, compared with day and evening shifts. Sleep-related events were highest following the first night shift, while inattention-related events were most frequent after consecutive night shifts. KSS, sleep-related and hazardous events were increased during drives following ≥16 hours of wakefulness. KSS and sleep-related events increased during drives within ±3 hours of aMT6s acrophase. An interaction between homeostatic and circadian processes was observed, with KSS and sleep-related events highest within ±3 hours of acrophase, when wakefulness was ≥16 hours. In naturalistic conditions, subjective and objective sleepiness and driving events are increased following night shifts, even during short (~30 minutes) commutes and exacerbated by an interaction between circadian phase and duration of wakefulness.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberzsz074
Number of pages13
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019


  • alertness
  • circadian
  • driving
  • homeostatic
  • shift work
  • sleep
  • wakefulness

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