Night Shift Nurses Need Management's Support

Lena J. Weiner, July 6, 2017

Errors are known to spike during late night hours, but guidance from managers can help nurses adjust to the night shift.

Healthcare is a 24/7 business and, while shift work is a necessity, working the night shift can be hazardous both to employee health and patient safety.

The Nurses’ Health Studies, in its third iteration since 1976, found nurses who worked rotating night shifts were at increased risk for colorectal cancer, breast cancer, and coronary heart disease.

In addition, it found that errors and on-the-job injuries both spiked after hours, says Ann E. Rogers, PhD, RN. She is the Edith F. Honeycutt chair of nursing and professor and director of graduate studies at the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing at Emory University in Atlanta.

"We know that during night shifts, no matter how well rested you and your colleagues are, everybody will experience some fatigue and may have to fight sleep. You simply are not as alert as you should be," says Rogers, who researches the effects of sleep deprivation and shift work on nurses. Even seasoned night shift workers can experience sleepiness while on the clock.

Thankfully, there are steps managers can take to help nurses combat the effects of working the night shift. Rogers offers these three ways to address common night shift challenges,

1.Don’t Ignore Signs of Fatigue

"All of us can hide the symptoms [of sleep deprivation] with coffee," says Rogers. But being under the influence of caffeine only masks the symptoms of fatigue. Caffeine doesn't restore attention to detail, grant patience in the face of frustration, or improve coordination, which are all consequences of sleep deprivation.

Other signs of fatigue include slowed reaction time or responses, irritability, poor memory, lack of attention to detail, and excessive consumption of caffeinated beverages.

If a usually calm and collected worker shows signs of fatigue, it wouldn't be out of line to ask him how he's adjusting to working the night shift

2.Tamp Down External Cues

Imagine a clinician wrapping up a 12-hour shift at the hospital to go home and get some rest, only to feel themselves suddenly perking up as they walk outside and are greeted by sunshine and bustling streets.

Lena J. Weiner

Lena J. Weiner is an associate editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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