Brain function and effects of shift work: Implications for clinical neuropharmacology

Sergio Garbarino, Manolo Beelke, Giovanni Costa, Cristiano Violani, Fabio Lucidi, Franco Ferrillo, Walter G. Sannita

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Night or shift work is to a relevant extent unavoidable, suits a growing preference for flexibility and is predicted to spread. However, a significant percentage of shift workers report discomfort or health problems and they often (15-20% of cases) move to different occupations. Apart from social implications, the issue has medical and scientific relevance, with evidence suggesting that the circadian rhythm phases are neither equivalent nor interchangeable with respect to function and performance. Shift work may affect the gastrointestinal and cardiovascular functions, alter the hormonal and sleepiness cycles, favor sleep disturbances of medical relevance, interfere with behavior and social life and increase the risk of accidents (e.g. road accidents). The implications for clinical (neuro)pharmacology are relevant and, in several instances, critical. Shift work can interfere with mechanisms regulating drug kinetics in peripheral compartments and action at selective brain sites, either directly or through effects on the gastrointestinal/hormonal cycles. In this paper, the relevant literature is reviewed and original data on the effects of shift work are reported. Basic and clinical research should take into account the possible effects on drug action of an active life and working schedule in inappropriate phases of the circadian cycles and the risk of inadequate drug dosing or inexpected abnormal action in subjects under long-term or chronic treatment. A scientific approach, action by the scientific community involved in pharmacological research and monitoring by the regulating agencies are advisable. Regulation may help reduce the medical and social impact and improve quality of life.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)50-56
Number of pages7
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2002


  • Brain dynamics
  • Circadian rhythms
  • Health risks
  • Hormones
  • Neuroactive drugs
  • Performance
  • Pharmacokinetics
  • Shift work
  • Sleep disorders
  • Vigilance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Psychology(all)


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