Shiftwork Study Wins Liberty Mutual Award

A study that examines the long-term consequences of sleep deprivation – specifically, the influence that shiftwork has on verbal memory and speed performances – is the recipient of the 2007 Liberty Mutual Prize.

The study's authors were presented with the award April 18 at the Ergonomics Society Annual Conference at Nottingham University in the United Kingdom. A report detailing the results of the study was published in Ergonomics, a journal of the Ergonomics Society and the International Ergonomics Association.

“We are honored to receive this award and hope that our continued work in this area will stimulate additional investigations while providing positive impact in the field,” said Isabelle Rouch, M.D., Ph.D., one of the lead authors of the study and a researcher with the French National Research and Safety Institute for the Prevention of Occupational Accidents and Diseases.

Effects of Sleep Deprivation Might Be Reversible

For the winning report – titled “Shiftwork Experience, Age and Cognitive Performance” researchers headed by Rouch and Pascal Wild, Ph.D., examined a cross-sectional sample of 3,237 French workers aged 32, 42, 52 and 62 years of various occupational statuses. The study participants completed a questionnaire on working hours, shiftwork and sleep patterns and had their cognitive abilities assessed through neuropsychological tests.

The researchers found that workers currently employed as shiftworkers displayed lower cognitive performance than workers not exposed to shiftwork. Among the current shiftworkers, researchers noted that shiftworkers who worked more hours had a decrease in memory performance. The findings also revealed that workers who had quit shiftwork 4 years prior displayed an increase in cognitive performance, suggesting a possible reversibility of effects.

“By increasing our understanding of the relationship of shiftwork and cognitive performance, we can help to improve worker safety,” Rouch said. “Our research provides some evidence of the adverse effects of shiftwork on cognitive function; however, it also shows that these effects can be reversed following cession of exposure.”

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