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NIOSH Training for Nurses on Shift Work and Long Work Hours

Sleep Differences

Nurses differ in their ability to tolerate shift work and long work hours.

  • If you have the ability to tolerate shift work without excessive sleepiness, then this is a trait, a stable individual characteristic that is determined genetically.1
  • Being able to sleep at different times of the day helps a person adjust better to shift work.2,3 Some people have difficulty napping or sleeping during the daytime.
  • Your ability to tolerate shift work and extended work hours is also influenced by the amount of sleep you need. Most people need 7 to 8 hours of sleep a day: a small percentage need more or less than this. Sleep researchers theorize this is an inherited trait. Nurses who have a short sleep need are likely able to adjust to shift work more easily.
  • If you are already sleep deprived for any reason, you will be more sensitive to working at night, even if you have had some recovery sleepa in between. A chronic sleep debt (buildup of lack of sleep) leads to poor performance at work.

aIncreased duration of sleep to make up for prior sleep deficiency.

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