Assigning shift work by employee’s preferences may improve outcomes, study finds



The grind of a work week can be difficult for any employee, but for those whose work schedules don’t match their biological clocks, they may experience “social jetlag,” or the feeling of walking around in a fog. New research from Germany has found that creating work schedules based on employees’ natural rhythms may improve overall well-being.

"A 'simple' re-organization of shifts according to chronotype allowed workers to sleep more on workday nights," study author Till Roenneberg of Ludwig Maximilian University in Germany said in a news release. "As a consequence, they were also able to sleep less on their free days due to a decreased need for compensating an accumulating sleep loss. This is a double-win situation."

Researchers from Ludwig Maximilian University worked with a former lab director from ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe to study factory workers. Each was assigned to an early, late, or intermediate group based on their normal sleep patterns. Researchers then assigned each of the 58 workers to a shift that aligned with sleep pattern - night owls were given later shifts and morning people were given earlier shifts, while those with intermediate chronotypes were used as the control group.

The study period lasted five months. With the adjusted schedules, workers reported feeling more sleep satisfaction and slight improvements in their general well-being. Study participants also reported reduced feelings of “social jetlag” by one hour.

While researchers noted that the study results weren’t exactly surprising, testing and proving the theory in a real-world setting was significant, they said, adding that night work is difficult for everyone, even if the individual naturally prefers to stay up late.

"We know that sleep has important implications not only on physical health but also on mood, stress, and social interactions, so that improving sleep will most probably result in many other positive side effects," Céline Vetter, the first author of the study, said in the news release.