A 2018 study by Oregon State University researchers found that nurses who work the night shift are more likely to suffer from physical and psychological health symptoms like severe nightmares, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), insomnia, and inflammation.
392 nurses kept daily sleep journals for two weeks to record the duration and quality of their sleep, as well as the severity of nightmares as part of the 2018 study. Blood samples were also taken halfway through to test inflammation and immune response.
The study found that about 80% of nurses reported good sleep while 11% had poor sleep. The remaining nurses had average sleep, but a high number of nightmares.
The poor sleep category had the highest percentage of nurses who worked night shifts, and who also reported higher rates of PTSD, depression, insomnia, anxiety, and stress when compared to nurses in the other groups.
Important to note is that 23% of the nurses in the poor sleep category were Black – while only accounting for 7% of the total number of nurses in the study. Co-author of the study and OSU assistant professor of psychology, Jessee Dietch, said that these findings were consistent with other studies.
“Experiences of discrimination are related to poor sleep health,” said Dietch, adding that it’s linked to systemic racism.
Because the study was conducted in 2018, the data doesn’t show how the pandemic may have impacted nurses’ sleep. Dietch said that COVID-19 has increased both the workload and emotional toll for nurses, and thinks it’s likely that a larger percentage of nurses would now report more sleep problems.
While these sleep disturbances are common among nurses and others, many people don’t know that there are treatments for these issues – like cognitive behavioral therapy for people struggling with insomnia.
In the future, Dietch says that research will be centered on finding methods to reduce negative sleep effects for nurses working night shifts.
“I think the main finding here is that sleep is important and should not be overlooked when we’re considering the picture of someone’s health,” says Dietch. “Especially in fields that require a lot of attention and care and emotional involvement, like nursing,”
By Momoko Baker