NIOSH logo and tagline

NIOSH Training for Nurses on Shift Work and Long Work Hours


Three nurses standing are standing and smiling

Younger people (children, teens, and young adults) tend to be able to sleep during the daytime and have more flexibility in the times they can sleep. However, they also tend to have a longer sleep length need and tend to have greater declines in performance when sleep deprived.

In general, older nurses may perform better and tend to feel less sleepy when acutely sleep deprived than younger nurses. Thus, they may have an advantage on the first night shift. This is because specialized neurons in the hypothalamus are losta during normal aging, so the transition from waking to sleeping is less pronounced.2 However, older nurses have more difficulty sleeping during the daytime and have reduced sleep efficiencyb, so they are quite vulnerable to the effects of sleep loss over several days even though they may not appear to be sleepy.10,11

Some nurses may experience more difficulties with shift work as they grow older, even those who adjusted adequately to shift work at a younger age.2,3

aThe area of the brain where neurons are lost is called the preoptic nucleus, a place that helps the body transition from being awake to being asleep.

bThe percentage of time sleeping while in bed.  Most adults achieve about 90% sleep efficiency, meaning that 90% of the time they spend in bed they are actually sleeping.  Sleep efficiency decreases with aging.

Module: 4, Page 4 of 10