Roughly 16% of the Dutch labor force works during the nightly hours on a regular basis. Signals arise from scientific literature that this might not always be healthy. Research does not yet have a decisive answer to which preventive measures protect employees best. A forward rotating schedule or a short bout of sleep during night shifts can potentially help against short term effects. Currently it is unclear how potential long term effects – like breast cancer- could be prevented. A variety of measures have been tested that aim to eleviate the health concerns of shift work. In the advice rapport “Nightwork and healthrisks: possibilities for prevention” that has been been released to the minister van Social Affairs and Employment today, the council will discuss four catagories of intervention:

  • adjustment of the shift work schedule
  • influencing of light exposure
  • behavior and lifestyle changes
  • taking medication/supplements

Concerning the prevention of short term health issues, the probative of currently available research is not strong. There are clues that a forward rotating shift schedule is most favorable for alertness and sleep quality. Also, a short bout of sleep during the night shift appears to help reduce drowsiness. On the basis of currently available literature it is impossible to tell at what time this sleepbout should occur and how long it should last.
Concerning the prevention of longer term health concerns a lot is still unclear. For both the forward rotating shift work schedule as for a short bout of sleep it is not known if they are effective for preventing long term health concerns. Nor is it clear if prevention of complaints like drowsiness, sleep quality or fatigue in the short term, can help reduce effects that could appear in the long run.
The commision thinks that employers should be even more critical in judging how necessary night shifts are. Where night shifts are indeed necessary, monitoring and follow up of the health of employees is very important.

The publication “Nightwork and healthrisks: possibilities for prevention” (nr. 2015/25) is downloadable at Further specifications of the content are provided by Eerst Schoten, tel. 06 46 23 68 96. e-mail: