Timely use of in-car dim blue light and blue blockers in the morning does not improve circadian adaptation of fast rotating shift workers

Circadian adaptation to night work usually does not occur in naturalistic conditions, largely due to exposure to low levels of light during the night and light in the morning on the way home. This leads to circadian misalignment, which has documented deleterious effects on sleep and functioning during waking hours. Chronic circadian misalignment is also being increasingly associated with long-term health comorbidities. As the circadian system is mostly sensitive to short wavelengths (i.e., blue light) and less sensitive to long wavelengths (i.e., red light), shaping light exposure in a "wavelength-wise" manner has been proposed to promote partial adaptation to night shifts, and, therefore, alleviate circadian rhythms disruption. This report presents results from two cross-over designed studies that aimed to investigate the effects of three different light conditions on circadian phase, sleepiness, and alertness of police patrol officers on a rotating shift schedule. The first study took place during summer (n = 15) and the second study (n = 25) during winter/early spring. In both studies, all participants went through three conditions composed of four consecutive night shifts: 1) in-car dim blue light exposure during the night shift and wearing of blue-blocking glasses (BBG) in the morning after 05:00 h; 2) in-car red light exposure during the night shift and wearing of BBG in the morning after 05:00 h; 3) a control condition with no intervention. To assess circadian phase position, salivary melatonin was collected hourly the night before and the night after each condition. Sleep was monitored by wrist actigraphy. Also, a 10-min Psychomotor Vigilance-Task was administered at the beginning and end of each night shift and the Karolinska Sleepiness Scale was completed every 2 h during each night shift. In the summer study, no difference was found in alertness and sleepiness between conditions. Participants though exhibited greater (≈3 h) phase delay after four consecutive night shifts in the control condition (in which morning light exposure was expected to prevent phase delay) than after the blue and red conditions (≈2 h) (in which wearing BBG were expected to promote phase delay). In the second study performed during the winter/early spring, a comparable ≈2 h phase delay was found in each of the three conditions, with no difference in alertness and sleepiness between conditions. In conclusion, participants in both studies exhibited modest phase delay across the four night shifts, even during the control conditions. Still, re-entrainment was not fast enough to produce partial circadian adaptation after four night shifts. A greater number of consecutive night shifts may be necessary to produce enough circadian alignment to elicit benefits on sleepiness and alertness in workers driving a motorized vehicle during night shifts. In-car dim blue light exposure combined with the wearing of BBG in the morning did not show the expected benefits on circadian adaptation, sleepiness, and alertness in our studies. Higher levels of light may be warranted when implementing light intervention in a motorized vehicle setting.
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