Making a Difference 2019-2020


Professor Sally Ferguson leads a research team at Central Queensland University (CQUniversity) that is working with industry to study the relationship between sleep, wake and work patterns, particularly for those working irregular hours, including those who are ‘on-call’ overnight. On-call work is common in industries such as engineering, aviation and medicine, where workers are required to be available to respond to unexpected peaks in workload or in 24/7 emergency response. Until recently, it has largely been assumed by employers that if no call occurs, then the worker’s sleep has been undisturbed, and that the recovery value of that sleep is the same as non-on-call sleep. But the CQUniversity research is showing that this is not necessarily the case. Supported by ARC Discovery Projects grant funding, Professor Ferguson’s team conducted a study using a simulated on-call scenario in a sleep laboratory, and found that certain characteristics of on-call arrangements can impact sleep and also next-day performance. A key finding is that if the likelihood of a call was unknown (as opposed to certainty of a call, or certainty of no call) sleep and performance were negatively affected. Further to this, when the perceived chance of missing the call alarm was high, sleep outcomes were worse than if there was little to no chance of missing the alarm. Finally, self-reported anxiety levels were higher prior to sleep on nights on-call than not on-call. Professor Ferguson says that the findings provide evidence-based guidance to employers in relation to scheduling on-call work and support for on-call workers. For example, the research suggests that rostering fewer workers on-call with a higher likelihood of being called may be better for sleep quality than more workers with a low likelihood of being called.

Woman asleep.



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