Tag Archives: sleep research

Blue light helps the body clock tick

While we rely on electric light bulbs, television screens and mobile devices, they also break our body’s innate links to bright sunlit days and dark nights, perhaps dimly illuminated by the moon and stars, and often cost us sleep. 

That sleep loss doesn’t come cheap: inadequate shut-eye cost the Australian economy $66.3 billion in 2016-17 through a loss of wellbeing and productivity.

Flooding the night with light affects the human production of melatonin – a hormone that helps regulate sleep. However, new research from the Alertness CRC shows the brightness of artificial light is not the main problem — it’s the amount of blue light in a light source that most impacts our internal clocks.

“High dosages of electric light at night can be very confusing for the body clock and leads to disrupted sleep that, over time, affects people’s health and mood,” says Monash University neuroscientist Associate Professor Sean Cain, a circadian rhythms expert. This is partly why many long-term shift workers experience health issues, he adds.

“At the same time, we need people to be alert at work, particularly when they are operating in safety-critical roles, so that’s when exposure to more blue light becomes important.”

The Alertness CRC, in collaboration with Australian SME Versalux Lighting Systems and Monash University, have developed MelaGen™ — LEDs that can be programmed to vary blue light content across any single building environment. This dynamic approach regulates visual and non-visual light to maximise wellbeing.

“MelaGen™ can assist in resetting circadian rhythms and promoting good quality sleep,” says Vince Macri, National Product Manager, Healthcare at Versalux.

He says the MelaGen™ system can also enhance vision and improve health, safety, performance and wellbeing in the workplace. — Brendan Fitzpatrick


Rostering for better health and productivity

Australia’s growing connection to the global economy ensures it is open for business 24/7. While people in health, transport and emergency services have historically worked around the clock, globalisation expands work hours beyond nine-to-five for people across increasingly varied industries.

Shift work and irregular rostered hours can worsen workers’ health, safety and productivity. As Australians work longer, more unconventional hours, there’s

greater demand on employers to reduce workplace risks by putting fatigue management plans in place.

The Alertness CRC has brought Australian optimisation software company Opturion and Monash University together to create the world’s first software program that automatically applies fatigue rules to create better staff rosters.

“AlertSafe® Rostering is a cloud-based integrated rostering system that helps employers design an optimal roster that takes into account employees’ constraints and preferences, and seeks to limit and mitigate worker fatigue,” says Alan Dormer, CEO of Opturion.

He says avoiding fatigue caused by a poorly designed roster will help reduce industrial accidents. “Research shows that avoiding fatigue, mistakes and non-conformances can be reduced by up to 30 per cent. Initial results from the Monash Medical Centre trial are similar. Other benefits are increased productivity and a reduction in sickness absence.”

The engine room behind the software is a complex algorithm offering sophisticated fatigue management in roster building, roster management, human capital management, and time and attendance systems. AlertSafe® can highlight fatigue risk on an individual, team and enterprise level.

“We can design a fatigue-mitigating roster that is better for employees and can reduce costs to employers,” says Monash University and Alertness CRC theme leader Professor Mark Wallace.

— Brendan Fitzpatrick


Improving alertness in critical environments

Who would seek treatment from a drunk doctor? Nobody, and nor would any health professional want to work under the influence of alcohol. But a “sleepy brain” is a lot like a “drunk brain” – affecting reaction time, memory, performance and judgement – yet doctors, nurses and many other workers can have schedules that lead to high levels of sleepiness.

It’s a big risk for industry, and for the community. The Australian Medical Association has previously recognised that “fatigue can impair judgement and work performance, and potentially affect patient care and the wellbeing of doctors”.

“These schedules have developed over the past century without thinking much about the role of sleep,” says Professor Steven Lockley, who leads the Safety and Productivity Improvements Program at the Cooperative Research Centre for Alertness, Productivity and Safety (Alertness CRC).

“And it’s not optimal from a performance and patient safety point of view.”

In order to address this unmet need, the Alertness CRC has developed a set of recommendations that includes advice on the maximum number of consecutive shifts, the maximum number of consecutive night shifts, the maximum shift duration and interval between shifts and the preferred shift rotation sequences. Rolling out similar recommendations in a UK hospital led to a 30% reduction in medical error rates.

Now, the Alertness CRC is combining IT with its knowledge of schedule design. Partnering with Melbourne-based tech company Opturion, the team has integrated the recommendations into state-of-the-art rostering technology, combining logistical planning and workplace sleepiness reduction into a single, cost-effective software tool.

This ‘Alert Safe’ scheduling tool has initially been developed for healthcare settings, but will be rolled out across all sectors where shift work is common. A series of ongoing studies will measure the impact of this solution on both workplace performance and cost benefit.

“It’s a global issue,” says Opturion CEO Alan Dormer. “There’s no reason this can’t translate to every market across many continents.”

– Lauren Martin

For more CRC discovery, check out KnowHow 2017

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