Who’s the sleepiest of them all?


Woman Sleeping

istock | Choreograph

“Working the night shift I sometimes sacrifice sleep to get things done during the day.”

“I would love to go to bed, relax and fall asleep and stay asleep for longer than an hour.”

“… it’s nearly impossible to develop any kind of routine.”

Sound familiar? Nurses and sleep, sleep and nurses—these are two words that are almost always at odds, with nurses all too often on the losing end. Still, the question remains: just how far behind are nurses falling in this perpetual game of catch-up, are some at a greater loss than others and what are the very real consequences of sleeping hours that come few and far between?

So, we went straight the nurses and we asked you ourselves, divvying up our survey into three separate categories:

  • Day-shift workers
  • Swing-shift workers
  • Night-shift workers

And here’s what we found, as noted in the Fall 2014 print issue of Scrubs (get your copy here!):

Total Day Shift Swing Shift Night Shift
Avg. hrs of sleep 6 hrs, 30 min. 6 hrs, 24 min. 6 hrs, 42 min. 6 hrs, 24 min.
Avg. # of wake-ups 2.0 2.1 2.0 2.1
Avg. amount of time awake 18 min. 16 min. 14 min. 22 min.
Net avg. hrs of sleep 6 hrs, 12 min. 6 hrs, 8 min. 6 hrs, 28 min. 6 hrs, 2 min.

That’s not very much restful sleep, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that about 1 in 5 nurses (22%) reported poor/very poor physical health. But surprisingly, shift type seemed to have a very minor effect on perceived mental and physical health, as well as total sleep quality. Overall:

  • About 1 in 6 nurses (14%) reported poor/very poor mental health
  • About 2 in 5 (41%) reported poor/very poor sleep quality, resulting mostly from bodily discomfort, noise and light levels.

The verdict? An overwhelming number of nurses are rating their mental and physical health as “average at best.” The same goes for the quality of their sleep. As for complaints, however, the night-shift workers were much more vocal.

So—what gives? Why are the lips of the day/swing-shift workers sealed?

One theory is that the medical profession has adopted a culture wherein day/swing-shift workers are not comfortable admitting distress. Why? Because the assumption is that a lack of sleep and poor sleep quality are common grievances reserved for the night shift. But the truth is, getting enough sleep can be problematic for all nurses. (Do you agree? Tell us in the comments below…we’re curious!)

That being said, it comes as less of a surprise that a consistent lack of sleep/poor sleep quality boasts a wide range of very serious consequences for all shift types:

  • About 1 in 6 nurses (15%) reported falling asleep in the daytime without intending to.
  • About 1 in 4 (26%) reported struggling to stay awake while doing things.
  • About 1/4 experienced negativity and/or were worried. Exhibit A: “I believe that for all the years I have worked the night shift, I have managed to become a walking time bomb.”
  • About 1/3 use some sort of non-prescription sleep remedy (with night-shift workers being the most likely in this instance).

And one of the most formidable obstacles encountered by all? The struggle to establish a routine.

So, what are the solutions? The question brings us to an interesting comment…

“It would be of benefit for the employer and staff to come to an understanding of the scheduled shift changes and how difficult they are.”

Ask yourself: Are you sharing your thoughts and concerns with you supervisor? Perhaps the time has come to be more vocal. After all, understanding and communication are the best way to bring about change. And boy, don’t some high-quality Z’s sound nice?

Have you managed to work out a routine? Share your tips and advice in the comments below with us!

Scrubs Editor
The Scrubs Staff would love to hear your ideas for stories! Please submit your articles or story ideas to us here.

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