For anyone in the nursing field, sleep deprivation is real and a concern for patient safety. The term refers to the absence of sleep during a period of time that is determined by an individual’s need. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), most adults need about seven to eight hours of sleep each night to feel alert and well rested. Nurses and student nurses are definitely prone to sleep deprivation both in school and after graduation. I remember while in nursing school, I pulled several “all-nighters” when studying for exams or finals. As it turned out, that was exactly the wrong time to be sleep deprived.
After graduation from nursing school, jobs and schedules can easily lead to sleep deprivation. This includes rotating shifts, being on call all night and then working regularly assigned shifts the next day, or working double shifts and then also having home responsibilities that need to get done. Often these extra hours at work or home prevent sleeping during precious free hours. Nurses must perform tasks that require sustained and continuous attention, and loss of sleep adversely affects this ability. It also appears to affect the neural auditory system by slowing the response time between hearing something and reacting to it.
The effects of sleep deprivation don’t stop with a slower reaction time. Other symptoms include a decreased ability to perform fine psychomotor skills, mood changes, memory problems and cognitive changes. If loss of sleep continues over a longer period of time, physiological changes can also result in affecting the immune system, changes in cortisol levels and a decrease in insulin sensitivity. For nurses and nursing students in particular, these changes can potentially create many safety and work hazards, not limited to a risk of increased accidents, a risk of increased errors, a decrease in ability to quickly solve problems and a negative impact on the work environment because of mood swings and the inability to cope with workplace stress.
Sleep deprivation is an old problem for nurses and student nurses. It has actually resurfaced now because of the nursing shortage, decreased financial ability to hire adequate staff and greatly increasing workloads with unstable patients. With some close attention, the nursing staff should not suffer from lack of sleep. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine offers the following tips on how to get a good night’s sleep:
- Follow a consistent bedtime routine.
- Establish a relaxing setting at bedtime.
- Get a full night’s sleep every night.
- Avoid foods that contain caffeine, as well as any medicine that has a stimulant, prior to bedtime.
- Do not bring worries to bed with you.
- Do not go to bed hungry, but don’t eat a big meal before bedtime either.
- Avoid any rigorous exercise within six hours of your bedtime.
- Make your bedroom quiet, dark and a little bit cool.
- Get up at the same time every morning.