Patterns of salivary cortisol levels can manifest work stress in emergency care providers
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To develop objective assessments of work fatigue, we investigated the patterns of changes in salivary cortisol levels in emergency care providers working extended work shifts. Fourteen subjects, comprising seven physicians and seven physician assistants, provided unstimulated saliva samples at regular intervals over the course of a 24-h work shift and over their subsequent free day. There was a significant time effect, with early morning cortisol levels being significantly attenuated following the work shift. Native diurnal variations varied by gender, with the female subjects manifesting greater cortisol levels. Physicians also had higher cortisol profiles even though their wake–rest cycles were similar to those of the physician assistants. Our results suggest that temporal changes, as well as diurnal similarities, in the salivary cortisol patterns can reflect work-related stress and recovery. In particular, early morning cortisol levels may manifest individual reactivity to work stressors as well as sleep deprivation.