Long Shifts Leave Nurses at High Risk of Health Problems, Study Finds
Researchers from the University of Maryland-Baltimore said the trend of 12-hour shifts started in the 1970s and 1980s when there were nursing shortages. Jeanne Geiger-Brown, associate professor at the UMB's School of Nursing, said hospitals started giving nurses more benefits and bonuses, and bought into the trend when they saw that the change made nurses happy.
The study involved 80 registered nurses, working three successive 12-hour shifts, either day or night. Geiger-Brown said researchers were surprised at the short duration of sleep that nurses achieved between the 12-hour shifts. More than 50 percent of shifts were longer than 12.5 hours, and with long commutes and family responsibilities, nurses had very little opportunity to rest between shifts. The study noted that people who are sleep deprived experience micro sleep periods, little lapses in attention, and intershift fatigue, "meaning that on the next shift you don't fully recover from the previous one."
Researchers said experiencing partial sleep deprivation chronically, over many years, is dangerous to the nurses' health and to the patients. Geiger-Brown said the most common problems with an overemphasis on 12-hour shifts are needle-stick injuries, musculoskeletal disorders, drowsy driving, and other health breakdowns related to sleep deprivation.
The authors said they don't expect 12-hour shifts to end anytime soon. However, they said hospitals can use several tools to help nurses and hospital administrators better manage the practice, such as courses in harm reduction, fatigue risk management, and more training of nurses about the risks.
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August 2, 2010
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