What is it about?

The Psychomotor Vigilance Task (PVT) is a sensitive assay to assess fatigue. Test subjects have to respond to a visual signal by pressing a button as quickly as possible. Response speed, false starts, and lapses are registered. In this study, female nurses underwent PVT testing after a completed night or day shift. After night shifts, vigilance was reduced. Over the consecutive course of three night and two day shifts, an improvement in response speed was observed. The frequency of lapses was reduced after the third night shift, approaching the performance after a day shift.

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Why is it important?

Night-shift work may lead to increased fatigue which may result in an increased risk for accidents at work or when commuting home, but, in the case of nurses, also of errors in patient care. In contrast to many previous studies which only compared psychomotor vigilance between day and night workers, we were able to compare the intra-individual performance over the course of several day and night shifts in this field study. Several factors that may influence psychomotor vigilance were also considered.


I would be pleased if our research in occupational epidemiology contributes to a better understanding of health hazards at the workplace. Because shift work in hospitals will continue to be unavoidable, this study may serve an entry point to test the efficacy of simple work-safety measures to mitigate possible adverse effects of night-shift work.

Thomas Behrens
Institute for Prevention and Occupational Medicine of the German Accident Insurance, Institute of the Ruhr-University Bochum

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This page is a summary of: Decreased psychomotor vigilance of female shift workers after working night shifts, PLoS ONE, July 2019, PLOS, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0219087.
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