Light at Night and Measures of Alertness and Performance: Implications for Shift Workers

Mariana G. Figueiro, Levent Sahin, Brittany Wood, Barbara Plitnick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Scopus citations


Rotating-shift workers, particularly those working at night, are likely to experience sleepiness, decreased productivity, and impaired safety while on the job. Light at night has been shown to have acute alerting effects, reduce sleepiness, and improve performance. However, light at night can also suppress melatonin and induce circadian disruption, both of which have been linked to increased health risks. Previous studies have shown that long-wavelength (red) light exposure increases objective and subjective measures of alertness at night, without suppressing nocturnal melatonin. This study investigated whether exposure to red light at night would not only increase measures of alertness but also improve performance. It was hypothesized that exposure to both red (630 nm) and white (2,568 K) lights would improve performance but that only white light would significantly affect melatonin levels. Seventeen individuals participated in a 3-week, within-subjects, nighttime laboratory study. Compared to remaining in dim light, participants had significantly faster reaction times in the GO/NOGO test after exposure to both red light and white light. Compared to dim light exposure, power in the alpha and alpha-theta regions was significantly decreased after exposure to red light. Melatonin levels were significantly suppressed by white light only. Results show that not only can red light improve measures of alertness, but it can also improve certain types of performance at night without affecting melatonin levels. These findings could have significant practical applications for nurses; red light could help nurses working rotating shifts maintain nighttime alertness, without suppressing melatonin or changing their circadian phase.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)90-100
Number of pages11
JournalBiological Research for Nursing
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • GO/NOGO test
  • alertness
  • melatonin
  • red light
  • shift work


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