Healthcare facilities often have to provide round-the-clock patient care. As a result, nursing staff are exposed to shift work as well as long working hours, which increases the risk of sleep disturbances and sleeplessness.
Pressures of the nursing profession take their toll, and as many as one-third of healthcare workers in PA report that they don’t obtain a sufficient amount of sleep.
Challenges of Inadequate Sleep for Nurses
Researchers have associated getting regular sleep of 7 to 8 hours every night, with a reduced risk of diabetes, obesity, hypertension, myocardial infarction, sleep apnea, and cerebral vascular accidents, apart from a lower risk of workplace injuries.
Nursing staff in hospitals as well as long-term care facilities often have to sleep at irregular times as well as during periods that are not in sync with circadian rhythms. This misalignment leads to problems with disturbed sleep, falling asleep while working, early awakenings and frequent arousals during sleep.
This results in poor sleep quality and shortened sleep duration. Competing demands of workplace and home as well as inadequate rest between work shifts increase the worker’s health risks.
In addition, financial pressures may push a nurse to work longer hours or take on a second job. For these reasons, healthcare ranks in second place among all industrial sectors for the number of workers reporting insufficient sleep duration.
Health Risks for Nurses Arising from Poor Sleep
Medical experts have associated a number of illnesses with irregular and inadequate sleep, particularly among nurses working in shifts.
Nurses often report gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, which may occur because of the altered circadian rhythms of the GI function as well as changes to the immune function (due to the stress response to sleep deprivation).
Irregular eating between shifts and the types of foods available at odd hours may also add to the health problems for nurses. Researchers have reported an increase in the incidence of colon cancer among nurses who have been working for at least three nights a month for more than 15 years.
Shift work for nurses increases their risk of cardiovascular disease by as much as 40 percent compared to regular day workers. Elevated cortisol levels, insulin resistance, and reduced glucose tolerance are also associated with irregular sleep hours for nurses.
Many nurses in PA also report psychological problems, including anxiety and depression, mood disturbances, relationship difficulties and personality changes. Some research studies have shown that shift work may be associated with a modest increase in risk for pre-term birth, spontaneous abortion, and fertility issues in women.
Workplace Injuries due to Poor Sleep for Nurses
Sleep deprivation, extended schedules, and faster work pace contribute to the risk of musculoskeletal injuries and disorders (MSD) among nurses. Back injuries are particularly common among healthcare workers.
According to medical experts, irregular sleep-wake cycle and extended work shifts (such as a 12+ hour shift) can contribute to MSD because of extended exposure to postural and physical risk factors and inadequate recovery time.
Higher patient loads and lower staffing ratios in healthcare facilities are likely to result in a higher exposure of nurses to hazardous work conditions and workplace injuries. Injured healthcare workers should speak to an experienced workers’ comp attorney in PA to protect their rights.