The influence of light at night exposure on melatonin levels among Canadian rotating shift nurses

Grundy, A., Tranmer, J., Richardson, H., Graham, C.H., Aronson, K.J. The influence of light at night exposure on melatonin levels among Canadian rotating shift nurses. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, September 2011.

BACKGROUND: Shift work has been identified as a risk factor for several cancer sites in recent years, with melatonin as a potential intermediate on the proposed causal pathway. This study examined the influence of nighttime light exposure on melatonin levels among 123 rotating shift nurses.

METHODS: Nurses working a rotating shift schedule (two 12-hour days, two 12-hour nights, and five days off) were recruited and participated on a day and night shift in both the summer and winter seasons. Over each 48-hour study period, nurses wore a light data logger and provided two urine and four saliva samples.

RESULTS: Saliva measurements showed that the pattern of melatonin production did not differ between day and night shifts. Mean light exposure was significantly higher (P < 0.0001) when nurses were working at night, although peak melatonin levels (P = 0.65) and the daily change in melatonin levels (P = 0.80) were similar across day/night shifts. Multivariate analysis did not show an association between light exposure and melatonin levels when data from both shifts was combined; however, when data from the night shift was considered alone, a statistically significant inverse relationship between light and change in melatonin was observed (P = 0.04).

CONCLUSION: These results show that light exposure does not seem to be strongly related to reduced melatonin production among nurses on this rapidly rotating shift schedule.

IMPACT: Future research considering more extreme shift patterns or brighter lighting conditions could further clarify the relationship between light exposure and melatonin production in observational settings.

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