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Nurses' lack of sleep before a shift could affect patient care

Researchers say over an hour of sleep is missed before a scheduled shift on average

Photo (c) AaronAmat - Getty Images
Recent studies have linked sleep deprivation with errors in consumers’ memory and a reduced ability to properly complete tasks, which can be troublesome during working hours. 

Now, researchers from New York University found that this lack of sleep has become a cause for concern for nurses. The team found that many of these health care professionals are missing nearly an hour and a half of sleep the night before they’re scheduled to work. 

“Nurses are sleeping, on average, less than recommended amounts prior to work, which may have an impact on their health and performance on the job,” said researcher Amy Witkoski Stimpfel, PhD. 

Prioritizing sleep

The researchers surveyed over 1,500 registered nurses about their sleeping habits, both when they’re scheduled to work and when they have time off, in an effort to understand how sleep could affect them mentally and physically at work. 

On average, the nurses involved in the study were getting 83 fewer minutes of sleep on nights before they had work, including naps. When nurses didn’t have work the next day, they were sleeping more than eight hours, but that figure dropped to under seven hours when a shift was imminent. 

The researchers are primarily concerned about how this lack of sleep could affect nurses’ performance on the job and what risk, if any, this poses for the patients in their care. 

As previous studies have reported, getting enough sleep is crucial for consumers to function optimally. Catching up on sleep isn’t a realistic expectation -- especially when thinking about the long hours and frequent schedule changes that nurses frequently experience. 

“Research on chronic partial sleep deprivation in healthy adults shows that after several days of not getting enough sleep, more than one day of ‘recovery sleep’ -- or more than 10 hours in bed -- may be needed to return to basic functioning,” said Dr. Witkoski Stimpfel. “But considering a nurse’s schedule, which often involves consecutive 12-hour shifts and may only offer one or two days between shifts, the risk of complete recovery, or ‘catching up,’ is low.”

To ensure that all patients are receiving the highest quality of care, and that nurses have ample time to rest and recover, the researchers encourage hospitals and other medical offices to take these findings into consideration when scheduling nurses for shifts.

“It’s in everyone’s interest to have nurses well-rested so they can perform their critical function within the healthcare system and keep patients safe,” said researcher Christine Kovner, PhD, RN. 

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