PM.20.004 – A virtual coach for night shift workers

Route: Personalised medicine: the individual at the centre

Cluster question: 073 What effect is the rising 24-hour economy having on human health and performance and how can our knowledge of biorhythms enhance the relationship between the individual and society?

About a fifth of the Dutch work force is engaged in shift work. Reduced fitness while working the night shift translates into acute risks for the shift worker, the employer, and the end users. For the worker, night work can have a serious impact on health in at least two ways as it affects lifestyle and interferes with fundamental biological processes. In terms of lifestyle, working odd hours can lead to problems with sleep quantity and quality, which has been associated with a general feeling of being unwell and increased vulnerability for sickness. In addition, shift work may lead to social isolation and depression. Shift workers may also find it harder to exercise regularly and are more likely to make unhealthy dietary choices. On a fundamental level, being awake at odd or irregular hours affects our biological rhythm. Shift work disrupts the circadian rhythm, our internal body clock that is aligned to the natural light-dark cycle, and long-term repeated exposure to night work has been associated with increased risk of developing noncommunicable diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease Nevertheless, we seem to be intent on producing a 24/7 society with an increasing need for shift work. Evidence-based interventions are therefore urgently needed in order to counteract the risks of shift work. Our working hypothesis is that a personalized strategy is needed in order to accommodate the multifaceted etiology and interindividual differences. We anticipate that developing a virtual ‘night shift coach’ will represent the desired breakthrough as it can help to identify the needs of a shift worker and advice based on hybrid intelligence (i.e. expert knowledge combined with machine learning) while taking into account human values (value based design), thereby allowing the shift workers to perform better during the night while minimizing health risks.


24/7 society, Cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, shift work