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Advocate Argues Nurses Need More Rest To Stay Effective

Air Force Medical Service

A new study is calling for a "culture change" in healthcare, to help prevent life-threatening mistakes at the nation's hospitals. It focuses on nursing, a profession facing a labor shortage that can involve stressful 12-hour shifts at odd hours.

Tired nurses have been studied before, but this research from the University of Wisconsin at Madison is suggesting policy changes to ensure they get the rest they need. Linda Scott, dean of the School of Nursing and study co-author, says all that sleeplessness can lead to serious mistakes – a problem other industries have already recognized... 

"You know we have hours of work regulations for pilots, for truck drivers. But yet in healthcare, we don’t tend to have policies that ensure that individuals have sufficient recovery time between shifts."

The study recommends limiting shift changes, meaning nurses aren't working "on call" so often and would be able to better acclimate to regular work hours. Scott says a six-hour work day would also be a good option. But the nursing shortage is likely to continue.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing says tens of thousands of people who want to enter the field are being turned away, as there aren't enough faculty members or clinical sites to meet the demand for training. Another study recommendation is allowing short naps for nurses. Currently at many medical facilities, an on-the-job nap is grounds for being fired. Scott says at least one hospital had been concerned nurses would abuse the privilege if allowed to take a nap, but tried it – and found that didn’t happen, and the performance of its nursing staff improved.

"They really saw differences in less errors, less reports of drowsy driving. There was really improvement in overall nurse and patient safety within their institution."

The report says carrying a large sleep debt can lead to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, dementia and immune system problems. Strategic naps and getting better rest overall are tactics Scott says everyone can use, regardless of profession.

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