Hospital shift nurses may not be getting enough sleep for safety

On Behalf of | Dec 16, 2019 | Medical Malpractice |

In order to function well, people need seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Sleep deprivation, whether acute or chronic, can hurt your ability to handle complex or stressful tasks and make you more prone to errors. In nursing, sleep deprivation could cause crucial mistakes in the administration of medicine or clinical decision-making.

Recently, researchers at the New York University Rory Meyers College of Nursing did a study of how well-rested U.S. registered nurses are. This was meant to help determine whether sleep deprivation has a serious impact on patient safety and quality of care.

The researchers analyzed data from two surveys collected in 2015 and 2016 from 1,568 registered nurses. The nurses were asked to say how much sleep they got during the 24 hours before a shift and also when they were not scheduled to work. Then, they were asked questions about patient care and safety at their workplaces. Patient safety was also measured using an official hospital survey on patient safety culture.

On average, the nurses reported sleeping just less than 7 hours before a work day, but more than 8 hours before a non-work day. The difference amounted to an average of 83 fewer minutes spent sleeping before a shift – nearly an hour and a half.

Did the extra sleep on non-work days help the nurses make up for the lack of sleep on work days? The study’s lead author doesn’t think it likely. Research has shown that, after several days of reduced sleep, more than a single day’s worth of “recovery sleep” may be required in order to return to baseline functioning. This recovery sleep typically means sleeping 10 or more hours in a row.

Chronic sleep deprivation could impact patient safety

Unsurprisingly, less sleep was associated with lower scores on patient safety and quality of care. This could be because individual nurses may be fatigued enough that it impairs their performance. The researchers also point out, however, that the problem could rise to the organizational level.

Especially at hospitals, nurses typically work 12-hour shifts that are not standard. At some workplaces, patient needs or staffing shortages can often result in nurses working long beyond their scheduled hours. If this happens frequently, there could be an environment where tired, overworked nurses become the norm.

The researchers recommend that nursing supervisors use evidence-based scheduling strategies and limit overtime to encourage more full, regular nights of sleep. Professional development should also focus on the importance of quality sleep.

Lack of sleep can contribute to malpractice. If you believe you have been the victim of a preventable nursing error, discuss your concerns with an attorney.