Nursing Needs Sleeping Too

Nurses test various strategies to manage sleep deprivation

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Due to the nursing shortage stemming from the 1980's, many nurse shifts start at 7:00 am til 7:00 pm or from 7:00 pm til 7:00 am, with many night nurses often working three consectutive shifts. These elongagated work schedules create Circadian Misalignment, a sleep/wake pattern disjointed with humans' biological clocks.

New research shows over burdensome scheduling disrupts sleep patterns and reduces work effectivness.

"Ask your nurse when she last slept."

Karen Gamble, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurobiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and her team interviewed nurses at Vanderbilt University to gather their sleep research data. 

Ms. Gamble, who worked on the study as a post-doctoral fellow at Vanderbilt, surprisingly found that the most common approach, used by 50 percent of the nurses surveyed, was to sleep in the day of their first night shift.

The second most utilized strategy was the ‘no sleep’ strategy. Nurses didn't sleep for the 12 hours prior to the 12 hour night shift. These nurses were skipping sleep for 24 hours straight.

This study also indicates that nurses who employ the sleep deprivation strategy are the most poorly adapted of the nurses surveyed.

Ms. Gamble's conclusion was to recomend nurses avoid the 'no-sleep' schedule and suggested that hospitals reevaluate nurse work shifts options.

In Depth

  • 388 day and night shift Vanderbilt nurses were involved in the program
  • Night-shift nurses who used sleep deprivation as a means to switch to and from diurnal sleep on work days (~25%) were the most poorly adapted to their work schedule
  • Circadian misalignment has been associated with increased risk of developing cardiovascular, metabolic and gastrointestinal disorders, some types of cancer and several mental disorders
  • In addition, polymorphisms in CLOCK, NPAS2, PER2, and PER3 were significantly associated with outcomes such as alcohol/caffeine consumption and sleepiness, as well as sleep phase, inertia and duration in both single- and multi-locus models
  • Many of these results were specific to shift type suggesting an interaction between genotype and environment (in this case, shift work)
Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 15, 2011
Last Updated:
April 20, 2011