Nurses made the news in April, and it is not good news for many. The results of an ongoing study have been released, and the results will have you thinking twice about signing up for that next run of night shifts.
A Nurses Health Study (NHS) was initiated in the late 1970’s that tracked nurses and their physical well-being over the course of their career. Close to 189,000 female nurses participated, periodically reporting through questionnaires about the type of nursing shifts they worked and the health of their heart.
With the data now compiled and analyzed, it shows a direct link between heart-related illness and working rotating night shifts for a period of ten years or more. Rotating night shifts were defined as working three or more overnights each month along with day and evening shifts. Something extremely common for nurses who work with in-patient facilities, like hospitals and nursing homes.
A Well Researched Study Into the Effects of Working Nights on Nurses
Not only was the NHS study looked at over the course of over two decades, it also took other risk factors for heart disease into consideration. The effect of night shift work on a nurse’s heart was isolated by taking into account known risk factors for heart disease. This included being overweight, smoking, a lack of physical activity and poor diet.
When compared to female nurses who did not work night shifts as a part of their rotation, it was found that those who did had a 15 to 18 percent higher risk of developing heart disease. This included heart-related chest pains, heart bypass surgery, angioplasty, stents and a heart attack. The highest prevalence was noted in those nurses who rotated night shifts for a period of ten years or longer during their career. In total, over 10,000 nurses who participated in the study had developed some type of cardiovascular disease.
The Good News Reported From the Study
According to the lead researcher of the study, Celine Vetter, the increased risk of developing heart-related health issues from night shifts will start to reverse once the nurse stops a second shift rotation. Since there will always be a demand for nurses at night, it is recommended that you only rotate this type of shift for a few years before looking for a position that keeps you strictly on days.
The reason for the increase in heart problems from night shifts is connected to your body’s natural sleep rhythms, and the strain that working past dark puts on them. Your body and mind are negatively impacted when you are forcing them to stay active as nature is encouraging them to shut down for sleep.
During those times in your career where you are working frequent night shifts, try and fix a schedule where you are given more than 12 hours in between to recover from them. Always allow for a straight sleep in between that lasts between 6 and 8 hours as this will help your mind and body to recover quickly.
If you have trouble with drifting off to sleep during the day, and then staying there, designate your room as a no entry zone, get darkening curtains and turn off your cell phone. Some find that a warm shower or bath after work helps with falling asleep, while others have discovered some apps that will get you there.
This is Not Really New News
The mental and physical health risks of working at night have been suspected for years, not only affecting nurses but having an impact on police officers, overnight store clerks, restaurant employees and more. So although this is not technically new news, the study puts the focus on nurses, and the strain that these shifts has on your well-being.
People will always get sick at night, and facilities will always have a need for nurses to help take care of them, so eliminating rotating shift work from nursing is an impossibility. What you can do to protect the health of your heart is insist on longer periods of time in between these shifts, only work that way for a limited number of years, and take better care of your heart in other ways. Eating right, avoiding smoking, and regular exercise will all work towards keeping the heart healthy, even when your job isn’t.
Being scheduled for nights shouldn’t give you a heart attack, but it may put you at higher risk for one. Mitigate that risk to ensure that you are healthy enough to enjoy those years when it will be your turn to assign night shifts to the newbies.