Sleep Awareness: Why Rest Is Important for Nurses

Sleep awareness for nurses is critical for overall health

By Anita Wong, contributor

While nurses often educate patients on healthy lifestyle choices, it's also important for RNs to take care of themselves. Sleep awareness touches more than just travel nurses, but due to their long shifts and job descriptions they are a population greatly impacted by the lack of shut-eye. Here are some facts to consider for travel nurses.

How much sleep should we be getting?

Adults should regularly get seven or more hours of sleep per night, says the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, but one-third of American adults don't get enough rest.

The number of people sleeping less than six hours a night has increased over the last few decades due to work demands, lifestyle and personal sleep schedules. This lack of shut-eye is leading to reduced productivity, increased risk of accidents and chronic diseases and conditions.

The good news is that there's a growing awareness of the importance of sleep to restore energy and maintain health. The National Sleep Foundation's Sleep Health Index found that in the last quarter of 2018, more American adults reported longer and better quality sleep. This upward trend is expected to continue.

Challenges for nurses

Nurses face unique challenges when it comes to rest, which is why Sleep Awareness Week for nurses is so important. The need for RNs around the clock, increased job growth and a shortage of skilled nurses means more demand on the current workforce. RNs put in long shifts, night shifts and overtime.

A study in the AORN Journal found nurses working 12-hour shifts average only 5.5 hours of sleep per night. Each consecutive shift causes more fatigue and drowsiness, leading to sleep debt and a negative impact on memory and executive function.

According to the Patient Safety Network, healthy adults:

  • Should sleep 7.5 to 8.5 hours per night regularly
  • Have, at minimum, five hours of sleep every 24 hours

Nurses and self-care

As a nurse, you know it's important to eat well, stay active and get enough sleep. But while you counsel patients to make these lifestyle choices, you're not alone if you find it difficult to practice them yourself. A study of nurses and health-promoting behaviors found several barriers to nurses' self-care:

  • Lack of time
  • Finances
  • Lack of institutional or social support
  • Shift work
  • Demands outside of the workplace
  • Specialty (critical care nurses scored lower than med-surg nurses)

The impact of poor sleep on nurses

Quality of patient care

Many studies have found that a lack of sleep increases medical errors and accidents, reduces performance and decreases patient safety. This is because sleep affects memory, reaction time and executive function.

When caring for sick patients, it's essential for nurses to anticipate and assess situations, evaluate risks, make sound decisions and adapt to change. This type of thinking takes place in the prefrontal cortex, which is affected by lack of sleep and fatigue.

Fatigue can also impact mood, leading to irritability or a lack of patience. This can influence how you communicate and your relationships with the rest of the healthcare team.

Impact on your own health

While not getting enough rest affects your performance at work, it can also negatively impact your own quality of life. Any less than seven hours of sleep per night on a regular basis is associated with:

  • Weight gain and obesity
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Stroke
  • Weakened immune system
  • Depression

Lack of sleep is also one of the factors leading to nurse burnout.

How can nurses get more sleep?

Sleep deprivation may feel like it's a part of the profession, but it's not. The important outcome of multiple sleep studies for nurses is the reminder of how important it is to make time for rest.

"There are choices we make on a daily basis that increase or decrease our level of wellness," writes Peggy Porter, RN. "It may not be possible at times to control the stress created by job situations, but we can control our individual wellness." She suggests watching caffeine intake, taking short naps and making sleep a priority. Check out 10 other tips to help nurses rest easy.

Short-term assignments as a travel nurse can keep you refreshed with new challenges and a change of scene. Search available opportunities on's job board and start your travel adventure today.





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