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NIOSH Training for Nurses on Shift Work and Long Work Hours

Impairments due to sleep deprivation are similar to impairments due to alcohol intoxication!

A nurse sits with her hand on her forehead

“Sometimes it’s almost like you’re drunk… and you can notice your body just basically being so sleep deprived, that you’re woozy and you’re incompetent and you are at risk of making a very serious mistake, and as nurses, this could be fatal.”

-Quote from an interview with a night shift nurse

Several studies show similarities between fatigue-related impairment in cognitive and physiological functioning, and impairments due to alcohol intoxication.14,18,19 Participants’ performances were tested and compared under two separate conditions: (1) after staying awake for extended periods and (2) after reaching a certain blood alcohol concentration (BAC). These studies suggest:

  • Being awake for 17 hours is similar to having a BAC of 0.05%.
  • Being awake for 24 hours is similar to having a BAC of 0.10%.

Note that the United States defines legal intoxication for purposes of driving as a BAC of 0.08% or greater. However, driving impairments are seen at a BAC of 0.05%, and some countries use a cutoff of 0.05% or lower for driving purposes.20

Warning: the combination of even a low dose of alcohol and extended wakefulness reduces performance even further.21 Therefore, it is important not to drink even small amounts of alcohol when you are sleep-deprived and planning to drive or perform other critical tasks.
Module: 3, Page 8 of 28