NewsCircadian Physiology

The scientific night shift

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Science  25 Nov 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6315, pp. 988-991
DOI: 10.1126/science.354.6315.988

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Summary

Working nights is unavoidable, or at least commonplace, in certain scientific fields. If you want to study bat behavior or stellar nebulae or sleep physiology, you may have to become half-nocturnal yourself, and scientists who sign up for the night shift encounter problems that just don't arise during the day. They tumble down embankments in the pitch black, nod off midexperiment, and grow paranoid in the witching hours. It's a tough gig, and for these and other reasons psychologists and sleep experts take a dim view of night work, which can disrupt sleep, throw hormones out of whack, and make you measurably dumber. And yet, few of the nocturnal scientists Science talked to would give up their work. Amid the misery and exhaustion, science after hours can still produce moments of serenity, even euphoria. "Either you're getting to know more about the natural world, or you're getting to know more about yourself," one night-shift scientist says. "It's always a source of happiness to me."