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A sleep strategy commonly used by night nurses throws off their circadian clocks
Date:4/14/2011

As many as 25 percent of hospital nurses go without sleep for at least 24 hours in order to adjust to working on the night shift, which is the least effective strategy for adapting their internal, circadian clocks to a night-time schedule.

That is one of the results of the first study to examine the strategies that night nurses use to adjust between day and night sleep cycles. The study was based on questionnaires from 388 nurses who work at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the results are published in the April 13 issue of the scientific journal, Public Library of Science One. The study also found that variations in individuals' circadian clock genes have a discernable impact on the nurses' ability to adapt.

A number of previous studies have found that repeated incidence of circadian misalignment the condition that occurs when individuals' sleep/wake patterns are out of sync with their biological clocks is not healthy. Jet lag is the most familiar example of this condition. Circadian misalignment has been associated with increased risk of developing cardiovascular, metabolic and gastrointestinal disorders, some types of cancer and several mental disorders.

The way that nursing shifts have been scheduled since the nurse shortages of the 1980's makes nurses particularly susceptible to this problem. Hospital nurses who work with inpatients do so almost exclusively in 12-hour shifts. The day shift normally runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and the night shift covers 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. The night shift nurses at Vanderbilt typically work a schedule that includes three days on night shift followed by two to five days off, when most switch back to a normal sleep cycle. That means most of them are shifting sleep cycles as frequently as twice a week.

"I was very surprised to find that nurses' second most frequent strategy was the 'no sleep' strategy that often involved staying awake for the 12 hours before starting the night shift,"
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Contact: David F. Salisbury
david.salisbury@vanderbilt.edu
615-343-6803
Vanderbilt University
Source:Eurekalert  

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