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Women are more disturbed by nightshifts than men, a new study reveals

Researchers from the Surrey Sleep Research Centre at the University of Surrey found disrupted sleep affects the brain function of men and women differently.

A groundbreaking sleep study has revealed what many female nurses may have long suspected - that they are more addled by nightshifts than men, especially in the early hours of the morning.

The conclusion was reached by researchers from the Surrey Sleep Research Centre at the University of Surrey, who claim to have undertaken the first study to examine whether disrupted sleep affects the brain function of men and women differently.

The test involved placing 16 male and 18 female participants in a controlled environment without natural light-dark cycles to break the circadian (body) clock, mimicking a shiftwork or jetlag scenario.

Participants’ cognitive function and mood were assessed every three hours during the awake period. The results revealed that the circadian effect on performance was significantly stronger in women than in men and that women were more cognitively impaired during the early morning hours, which for nurses typically coincides with the end of a night shift.

Co-author Nayantara Santhi said: ‘We show for the first time that challenging the circadian clock affects the performance of men and women differently.

‘Our research findings are significant in view of shiftwork-related cognitive deficits and changes in mood. Extrapolation of these results would suggest that women may be more affected by night shift work than men.’

The RCN has previously called on employers to offer nurses who work night shifts regular health checks. The college last made the call in 2013 when researchers at the University of British Columbia Cancer Agency, Canada, found that women who work night shifts for more than 30 years are twice as likely to develop breast cancer as those who work normal hours.

To read the Surrey sleep study, published in the American journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, click here.

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