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Nurses and Sleep

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Let us rewind a common scene in most of the hospitals and clinics during mid-afternoon – I am feeling tired, sleepy and want to have a nap. Most of us end up going for another cup of coffee (just one more to add to the innumerable cups that I had!) to keep me going for the rest of the day.

Most of us are sleep-deprived, having less than 6 hours of sleep at night. This is less than what is recommended by the National Sleep Foundation. As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, about one-third of the workforce in U.S. gets six or less hours of sleep a day.

Some of the common signs of sleep deprivation include:
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Drowsiness
  • Memory problems
  • Weight gain
  • Tiredness
Functioning after a sleep-deprived night may not be very good. We may not be alert enough to provide good services, as expected of us, in the day time. We tend to make more mistakes when we sleep less.

Michael Decker, Ph.D., RN, the Byrdine F. Lewis Chair in Nursing and associate professor in nursing, neuroscience and respiratory therapy at Georgia State University, reported that chronic sleep deprivation may affect critical thinking skills. He added that reduced sleep may also affect the decision-making and lowers the reflexes.

There are three studies that prove this:
  • One of the studies analyzed the logbooks of 502 nurses working in critical care and reported that those nurses who worked longer shifts than normal had reduced vigilance and increased errors.
  • Another study reported that sleep deprivation was more potent than ethanol in its sedative effects. But the effects on psychomotor performance were similar in both.
  • In surgeons, sleep loss was found to cause difficulty in learning new tasks and resulted in unexpected events during the surgery.


All these studies show that sleep deprivation indirectly affect the quality of service extended to the patients. Sleep loss not only affects the patients, but also the nurses. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, those who have good sleep have a better quality of life and the risk of depression is less. The risk of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and metabolic syndrome is more in people who sleep less.

Nurses who put their soul into extending the best care possible for the patients tend to overlook the importance of sleep in their lives. It is very important that we take care of ourselves and for that a good night's rest is essential.

How can you get good quality and quantity sleep? Experts suggest that those who do not have a night shift should develop good sleep habits in the night. Try to go to bed bit earlier and unwind yourselves. Try to disconnect from all electronic devices as much as possible. Grab a book or listen to some soothing music, if you feel that would help you to sleep.

If you have a night shift, try to block the light and noise in the morning to get a good sleep. This is a bit hard as people might show up or just keep calling. Sleep deprivation is all the more obvious in nurses who have rotating shifts. By the time the body gets used to sleeping in the morning, the shift changes back to a day one.

Try to reduce caffeine intake in the evenings or before going to sleep. Making exercise a routine will enhance the slow-wave sleep which is very important for the refreshing the brain and body.
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