Help Me Make it Through the Night (Shift)

Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS


January 24, 2012

In This Article

A Professional Imperative: 24-Hour Care

Nursing is, and always will be, a 24-hour business. We must find the healthiest and safest ways for nurses to work at night, or we might as well close the hospital doors.

The idea that some people might be genetically better suited to working nights is intriguing and supported by evidence suggesting that nurses who choose to work the night shift find it less disruptive.[55]Perhaps future research will better identify why certain individuals adapt more easily to nights and clarify the best methods for individual adaptation to shift work. Whether better adaption will overcome the negative health outcomes associated with working nights remains to be seen.

The Danish government recently awarded compensation to a number of women who developed breast cancer after years of working nights,[56] a signal that the public health problems associated with working nights are being taken seriously. In addition, the problem of fatigue in healthcare workers is receiving attention from many quarters, including the Joint Commission, which recently issued a sentinel event alert on this topic.[57] Although the focus of the alert is on fatigue caused by extended work hours, the recommendations offered have equal applicability to fatigue caused by night-shift-related sleep deprivation.

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