• air traffic control;
  • naps;
  • neurophysiological alertness;
  • night shift;
  • psychomotor performance;
  • within-subjects field study


The aims of this study were to measure sleep during a planned nap on the night shift; and to use objective measures of performance and alertness to compare the effects of the nap opportunity versus staying awake. Twenty-eight air traffic controllers (mean age 36 years, nine women) completed four night shifts (two with early starts and two with late starts). Each type of night shift (early/late start) included a 40-min planned nap opportunity on one occasion and no nap on the other. Polysomnographic data were used to measure sleep and waking alertness [spectral power in the electroencephalogram (EEG) during the last hour of the night shift and the occurrence of slow rolling eye movements (SEMs) subsequent to the nap]. Psychomotor performance task [Psychomotor Vigilance Task (PVT)] was completed at the beginning and end of the shift, and after the nap (or an equivalent time if no nap was taken). Nap sleep latencies were relatively long (mean = 19 min) and total sleep time short (mean = 18 min), with minimal slow wave sleep (SWS, mean = 0%), and no rapid eye movement sleep. Nap sleep resulted in improved PVT performance (mean and slowest 10% of reaction time events), decreased spectral power in the EEG and reduced the likelihood of SEMs. The occurrence of SWS in the nap decreased spectral power in the EEG. This study indicates that although sleep taken at work is likely to be short and of poor quality it still results in an improvement in objective measures of alertness and performance.