Earlier this month, the American Academy of Nursing released a position statement that recommended policies and practices that promote "adequate, high-quality sleep for nurses to contribute to safe nursing practice and patient care."
"The U.S. healthcare system requires critical nursing services around the clock, leading to many nurses working overnight hours and having irregular shifts," the statement read. "The human bodies’ circadian rhythm naturally promotes activity during the day and sleep at night. Long and irregular shift hours, such as a 12-hour work day, disrupts this natural sleep cycle, and has the chance to affect nurses' health, readiness, their ability to function in the delivery of patient care, and may lead to more medical errors."
Over at HealthLeaders Media, Jennifer Thew, RN, shared her some of her experiences from working 12-hour night shifts on back-to-back nights. She recalled being tired, getting headaches, and zoning out on her drive home after shifts.
"You would think that having the rest of the week off would have made it easy, but just as my body recalibrated to a daytime schedule, I would get knocked off course again by those night shifts," wrote Thew.
Thew, citing a 2014 article published in the journal Rehabilitation Nursing, wrote that risks for error are 15% higher for evening shifts and 28% higher for night shifts. The article also found that risk increases each subsequent night shift in a row.
Patients obviously are endangered by sleepy caregivers. But the nurses face long-term health risks, too. One study found that 11% of night-shift workers who worked rotating night shifts for more than six years had a shortened lifespan. Those who worked those shifts for more years than that had a 19%-23% risk of cardiovascular disease.
Thew also shared that one in 10 nurses reported a motor vehicle crash they believed was related to fatigue or shift work, per a 2011 American Nurses Association survey.