Tuesday, June 8, 2010

12-hour shifts take strong toll on nurses, raise mistake risk

Continuing on the theme this morning the negative effects irregular work schedules can have on employees, a new study seemingly condemns a common practice in the medical industry. The results could give hospitals incentive to change scheduling strategies to avoid potentially life-threatening mistakes.

The study found nurses who work 12-hour shifts rarely get restful sleep, and may struggle to keep an attentive eye on patients.

Half of nurses who took vigilance tests tended to have multiple lapses in alertness. The lapses were moderate for 39 percent and frequent for seven percent of nurses who worked lengthy shifts. Factors included sleep prior to shift, caffeine use and fatigue levels.

The amount of sleep nurses gets between 12-hour shifts is alarming. The average sleep time is only 5.5 hours. It gets worse for night-shift nurses, who slept a fragmented 5.2 hours a day.

“With long commutes and family responsibilities, nurses have very little opportunity to rest between shifts,” said Jeanne Geiger-Brown, PhD, principal investigator of the study.

Signs indicate the nurses may suffer from shift work disorder, a form of insomnia caused by work hours that are scheduled during the natural human sleep period.

The study involved 80 registered nurses who worked three consecutive 12-hour shifts. Lapses and median reaction times were measured with the five-minute Palm Psychomotor Vigilance Test.

The abstract associated with this research will be available for viewing Tuesday at SLEEP 2010, the 24th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, LLC.

Image by Christiana Care

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