NIOSH Training for Nurses on Shift Work and Long Work Hours

Module 2. How Shift Work and Long Work Hours Increase Health and Safety Risks


  1. Explain how shift work and long hours are linked to health and safety risks.
  2. Describe important functions occurring during sleep.
  3. Describe relevant physiologic processes involved in sleep and fatigue.

This module gives information about the functions of sleep and physiology of sleep regulation as background for developing strategies that organizations and nurses can use to improve sleep and reduce the immediate negative impacts of fatigue.

Research indicates that shift work and long work hours increase health and safety risks by disturbing sleep and circadian rhythms and reducing time for family and non-work responsibilities. Long work hours, in addition, increase exposures to hazards at work and reduce recovery times. These immediate effects promote stress, fatigue, negative mood, discomfort, physiologic dysfunction, and poor health behaviors (overeating, smoking, and lack of exercise). These in turn could lead to illnesses and injuries for the worker. In addition, the risks can extend to families, for example, from the conflicting demands of work and family.

Risks to employers include reduced productivity and increases in nursing care errors, which negatively affect patients. Mistakes by fatigued nurses can have broad-reaching negative effects on the community, ranging from nursing care errors to motor vehicle crashes during the commute. Scientific evidence indicates that the characteristics of the worker and the demands of the job influence whether these negative outcomes occur.

Module: 2, Page 1 of 25
Page last reviewed: March 31, 2020