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Russian scientists reveal why early birds should avoid working night shifts

December 20, 2016, 13:42 UTC+3 MOSCOW

The scientists staged an experiment to find out how the lack of sleep influences the attention of early and late risers

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© Alexandr Ryumin/TASS

MOSCOW, December 14. /TASS/ Scientists from Higher School of Economics and Oxford University have revealed the nocturnal peculiarities of early birds and night owls. At night, early birds can manage non-trivial tasks requiring attention better than late risers but at the same time the first group makes more mistake, HSE’s press service said. The study’s results have been published in the journal Experimental Brain Research.

"It is very interesting that although night owls spend more time than early birds to accomplish tasks requiring much attention, they achieve better accuracy," Andrey Myachikon, one of the coauthors, commented.

The scientists staged an experiment to find out how the lack of sleep influences the attention of early and late risers. Once the test got underway, 26 volunteers signed on to participate. They were asked to fill out a questionnaire in order to estimate the level of diurnal activity. The volunteers had to stay awake for 18 hours starting at 8 a.m. in the morning until 2 a.m. at night. In the beginning and at the very end of this time period they were questioned to evaluate the efficiency of their attention networks (ANT).

The test’s results which the subjects completed very late in the evening revealed substantial differences. The early birds completed tasks faster than the night owls, but they made mistakes more often. The scientists attributed this finding to the fact that people with "eveningness chronotype" treat the problems which require focusing more seriously in their preferable time of day, namely late evening and at night. Accomplishing such a task is challenging for both the mind and one's attention. Myachikov explained that late risers sacrifice speed for accuracy in results.

According to the scientists, such conclusions, as well as the outcome of similar future studies, could raise serious questions for educational systems and for hiring personal in a broad range of enterprises.

For pilots, airline operators, machinists, and many other occupations, mental alertness, the ability of handling a massive flow of information, and reaction time are of crucial importance. In any critical situation, these mental qualities would be pivotal. Additionally, the results of the study might be important for people working night shifts.

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