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Part of Western Governors University

November 3, 2017

Nursing & Healthcare

What you need to know about night shift and fatigue.

by Mary Carney, WGU Indiana Associate State Director of Nursing, DNP, RN-BC, CCRN, CNE

Healthcare has a “culture of fatigue” that is slowly changing for the better. Where did we ever get the idea that coming in for your sixth consecutive twelve-hour shift is somehow a good thing? Research and common sense are finally telling us the opposite! Fatigued workers in all industries make five times the number of errors as non-fatigued workers. In healthcare, this can be deadly. Recognizing the problem is the first step to finding solutions.


Maslow was right! Sleep is just as important as food, water, and oxygen. Who says that adequate sleep is a sign of weakness? Or that naps are for babies? Night workers face special challenges when it comes to getting adequate sleep. Here are some evidence-based strategies to improve daytime sleep:

Sleep Strategies

Night shift is not just for new grads waiting on a day position. A recent study documented that almost 85 percent of night nurses work that shift by choice, and of those, nearly 50 percent had spent their entire career on nights. Why is that, you ask? Well….

Night people ARE different! The CLOCK gene is partially responsible for circadian timing in humans. Researchers have found physical differences in this gene between strongly “morning types” (larks) and strongly “evening types” (owls). Which explains a LOT about why some folks adapt to nights readily, and others never do. There are now screening tests for morningness and eveningness – don’t be surprised to see them used in shift-specific hiring decisions someday soon!

Nurse Fatigue is a Sentinel Event! The Joint Commission issued a Sentinel Alert in 2011 around the topic of nurse fatigue and patient safety. They urge 24/7 health care organizations to develop a Fatigue Action Plan that includes evidence-based fatigue countermeasures training and staff education about sleep and fatigue. You can read the entire report and recommendations here: Joint Commission Report on Fatigue

WGU Indiana’s mascot is a night owl – and for a very good reason! WGU Indiana supports working adults in their desire for a college degree, irrespective of time and place. So, learning happens when YOU are ready for it- 2 a.m. or 2 p.m.- the choice is yours!

Bottom line: You can get your sleep AND get your degree!

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