An Australian study has found workers driving home after a night shift could be putting themselves and others at risk.
Researchers from the Institute for Breathing and Sleep at Austin Health put workers through simulated driving tests immediately following night shifts and found their ability to control a vehicle was significantly impaired.
Workers' ability to drive in a straight line and stick to the speed limit deteriorated, said institute researcher Dr Mark Howard.
'It's certainly clear that there's a much higher crash risk in people driving home after night shift,' Dr Howard told AAP at the Australasian Sleep Conference in Darwin, where he presented the findings on Thursday.
However, he said the study also evaluated the impact of workers taking naps before and during their shift.
Dr Howard said naps would not reduce the crash risk back to normal, but improved driving performance slightly.
He said a nap in the afternoon before a night shift, then during the shift in the early hours of the morning when people usually sleep, was best.
'We know these people are at high risk,' Dr Howard said.
'We're not going to stop people doing shift work, so we need to think about good strategies to help people minimise their risk.
'Sleeping in the afternoon, but enabling people the opportunity to have a nap at work is a good idea.
'That can be in combination with other strategies, so people could still have caffeine, which does have some benefits, during the shift,' he said.
However, shift workers' driving skills appeared to return to normal on their days off, according to research by Dr Howard's colleague Justine Westlake.
Dr Westlake surveyed workers after a period of at least 24 hours after their night shift and found their driving performance was the same as daytime workers.
But the shifts took a toll on workers' moods.
They were more likely to be depressed and tired, she said.
'You can drive safely, but it's having a chronic effect on fatigue, mood and feelings of sleepiness,' Ms Westlake told AAP. - AAP