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Science Explores Shift Work-Linked Fatigue

THURSDAY, Aug. 2 -- People who work days some weeks and nights another week can now rest assured that there's a chemical basis for the fatigue they feel, according to a new study.

Argentinian scientists have found that rotating shift workers have lower levels of serotonin, a chemical in the brain that helps regulate sleeping and waking patterns, according to the new data.

Researchers at the Universidad de Buenos Aires analyzed data from 683 men. They compared serotonin levels among 437 day workers and 246 rotating shift workers. Day and night work periods started at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Reporting in the August issue of Sleep, the researchers found that the day workers had higher levels of serotonin.

The findings may help scientists "understand the mechanisms related to the circadian rhythm desynchronization imposed by the rotating shift work regime," said study author Carlos Pirola in a prepared statement. They might also lead to new and better treatments to help fight shift work-linked fatigue, he said.

Rotating shift workers may lose up to four hours of sleep a day as a part of shift work sleep disorder. It is most often reported due to night and early morning shifts. Two percent to 5 percent of the population is thought to suffer from this disorder, which can leave sufferers anxious and depressed in addition to being exhausted.

The researchers noted that a lack of quality sleep may put workers at risk for injuries on the job. At the very least, the quality of their work may suffer, they added.

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Posted: August 2007