Errors are known to spike during the late night hours, but guidance from administration and HR can help shift workers adjust.
Hospitals are a 24/7 business, but errors and on-the-job injuries both spike after hours, says Ann E. Rogers, PhD, RN, 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.
Acknowledging that working at night presents special challenges is an important first step toward supporting nightshift workers, says Rogers. She offers three steps management can take to help them.
1. Look for 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.
Lena J. Weiner is an associate editor at HealthLeaders Media.