Light intervention also results in better sleep quality after their shifts, nurses report.
Nurses who received 40 minutes of bright light exposure prior to their night shifts experienced less fatigue and made fewer errors at work, indicates a new study conducted by McGill University.
The evening light regimen also resulted in better quality of sleep following their shifts, the nurses reported.
“Healthcare workers are experiencing high levels of fatigue due to staffing shortages, difficult schedules, and heavy workloads. Further, the cost of medical errors has been estimated at tens of billions of dollars per year in North America,” says Jay Olson, senior author of the recent study published in Sleep Health.
“Our study shows that feasible changes, such as getting light exposure before the night shift, may help reduce fatigue and its effects on performance at work, something which could benefit both the nurses and their patients,” Olson says.
Indeed, growing evidence indicates that night shift work significantly affects health and performance in nurses and other medical personnel because of the change of natural and circadian sleep processes, according to a 2021 article on sleep-related problems in night-shift nurses, which can compromise safety by, as Olson says, increasing the risk of errors and workplace accidents.
Building on a previous study, Olson and other researchers recruited nearly 60 nurses at McGill University Health Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada to work schedules that rotated between day and night shifts within the same week.
During the study’s initial 10-day observation period, nurses in the experimental group made a total of 21 errors, ranging from accidental needle pricks to giving the wrong medication dose.
Nurses were then given 40 minutes of bright light exposure from a portable light box before their night shifts. After the light intervention, the nurses made a total of seven errors—a reduction of 67%—confirming the results of a previous feasibility study where the researchers saw a similar 62% reduction in the number of errors at work, according to the researchers.
In contrast, nurses in the control group who changed their diet to improve their alertness showed only a 5% reduction in errors.
The researchers also found that nurses who followed the evening light intervention reported significant improvements in fatigue compared to those in the control group. In addition, the nurses who reported higher levels of fatigue made more errors at work.
“Interventions like the one we studied are relevant to a large population of workers, since between a quarter and a third of the world’s employees do some form of shift work,” says Mariève Cyr, the report’s first author. “Although we focused on nurses working rotating schedules, our results may apply to other types of shift workers as well.”
The researchers are conducting workshops on practical fatigue management at hospitals and other workplaces and have launched a website that shift workers can use to adapt the interventions to their own schedules.
“Our study shows that feasible changes, such as getting light exposure before the night shift, may help reduce fatigue and its effects on performance at work, something which could benefit both the nurses and their patients.”
— Jay Olson, senior study author
Carol Davis is the Nursing Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.
Fatigued night-shift nurses are at greater risk of making medical errors.
Medical errors have been estimated to cost tens of billions of dollars per year in North America.
Bright light exposure before a night shift appears to improve nurses’ alertness, resulting in fewer errors.