Shortened lifespans and risk of death from cardiovascular disease in night-shift workers have been linked to lack of sleep.
I have worked my fair share of night shifts—8 hours, 12 hours, and 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. In the late-90s, I even worked a rotating schedule that consisted of alternating one month of night shifts with one month of day shifts.
For me, the most difficult schedule to adjust to was working two 12-hour night shifts on Friday and Saturday. You would think that having the rest of the week off would have made it easy, but just as my body recalibrated to a daytime schedule, I would get knocked off course again by those night shifts.
I was tired. I got headaches. More than once, as I was driving home, I realized the last thing I remembered was pulling out of the hospital parking garage. I had driven about 30 miles without being aware of my surroundings.
I'm not the only nurse who has ever felt the ill-effects of shift work. The American Academy of Nursing understands this, too. To support safe nursing practice and patient care, the organization recently released a position statement on nurse fatigue advocating for policies and practices that promote adequate, high-quality sleep among nurses.
Shift Work Risks
In a 2014 article on the risks of shift work and long hours published in the journal Rehabilitation Nursing, its reported that in 2007, 32% of healthcare workers said they got six hours or less of sleep a day. When compared to day shifts, risks for error are 15% higher for evening shifts and 28% higher for night shifts. By the third consecutive night shift, risk increased by 17%, and 36% by the fourth consecutive night.
Night-shift workers can also experience ill-health effects. Data from the decadeslong Nurses' Health Study found that 11% who worked rotating night shifts for more than six years experienced a shortened lifespan. Those who worked rotating night shifts for six to 14 years had a 19% increase in risk of death from cardiovascular disease. Working rotating night shifts for more than 15 years increased CVD risk by 23%.
Jennifer Thew, RN, is the senior nursing editor at HealthLeaders.