Red light: A novel, non-pharmacological intervention to promote alertness in shift workers

Mariana G. Figueiro, David Pedler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Introduction: Night work requires inversion of the natural, diurnal human activity-rest cycle and is associated with decreased alertness and some measures of performance, reduced safety, adverse health effects, and chronic disruption of the melatonin cycle that has been associated with increased risk for several major diseases. Previous studies show that red light exposures at night can promote alertness and improve performance while not negatively affecting melatonin secretion. Method: This ongoing crossover, mixed (within- and between-subjects) design field study is testing the efficacy and acceptance of red light delivered to day-shift and night-shift workers using personal light glasses while they are at work. Each participant experienced three lighting interventions at the eyes: red light (50 lx, 630 nm, the treatment intervention), blue light (50 lx, 460 nm, the positive control intervention), and dim white light (10 lx, 3,000 K, the placebo control). During the interventions, participants underwent visual performance testing, submitted salivary melatonin and cortisol samples, and provided subjective reports of sleepiness, sleep disturbance, and general health over the 20-week protocol. Due to the ongoing nature of the study, only the performance and subjective reports are presented here. Results: Preliminary results indicate that response times were improved by the red and blue interventions, but not accuracy and hit rates. Blue light was associated with improvements to self-reported sleep disturbances compared to dim light. Conclusions: These field results partially support our laboratory results that showed a positive effect of red light for promoting alertness and certain performance outcomes during the day and at night. Practical Applications: Red light may be used to improve response times in shift workers. Continued research will elucidate the lighting interventions’ effects on melatonin and objective sleep measures (actigraphy).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)169-177
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Safety Research
StatePublished - Sep 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Alertness
  • Circadian stimulus
  • Health
  • Healthcare workers
  • Red light
  • Shift work
  • Sleep
  • Visual performance testing


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