Uncertain call likelihood negatively affects sleep and next-day cognitive performance while on-call in a laboratory environment

Madeline Sprajcer, Sarah M Jay, Grace E Vincent, Andrew Vakulin, Leon Lack, Sally A Ferguson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


On-call working arrangements are employed in a number of industries to manage unpredictable events, and often involve tasks that are safety- or time-critical. This study investigated the effects of call likelihood during an overnight on-call shift on self-reported pre-bed anxiety, sleep and next-day cognitive performance. A four-night laboratory-based protocol was employed, with an adaptation, a control and two counterbalanced on-call nights. On one on-call night, participants were instructed that they would definitely be called during the night, while on the other on-call night they were told they may be called. The State-Trait Anxiety Inventory form x-1 was used to investigate pre-bed anxiety, and sleep was assessed using polysomnography and power spectral analysis of the sleep electroencephalographic analysis. Cognitive performance was assessed four times daily using a 10-min psychomotor vigilance task. Participants felt more anxious before bed when they were definitely going to be called, compared with the control and maybe conditions. Conversely, participants experienced significantly less non-rapid eye movement and stage two sleep and poorer cognitive performance when told they may be called. Further, participants had significantly more rapid eye movement sleep in the maybe condition, which may be an adaptive response to the stress associated with this on-call condition. It appears that self-reported anxiety may not be linked with sleep outcomes while on-call. However, this research indicates that it is important to take call likelihood into consideration when constructing rosters and risk-management systems for on-call workers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)838-848
Number of pages11
JournalChronobiology International
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jun 2018


  • sleep disorders
  • on-call work
  • Cognitive performance
  • anxiety
  • sleep
  • work
  • on-call
  • qEEG analysis


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