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Take a nap during night shifts to stay vigilant, nurses advised

Power naps and avoiding more than three night shifts in a row are vital to keep nurses and their patients safe, says expert on workplace fatigue
Picture of a nurse taking a nap

Power naps and avoiding more than three night shifts in a row are vital to keep nurses and their patients safe, says expert on workplace fatigue

Nurses should take 20-minute power naps when working nights and not do more than three night shifts in a row, says a leading researcher on workplace fatigue.

Consultant anaesthetist Nancy Redfern, who has spearheaded research into fatigue among healthcare professionals, said these measures were vital to help keep nurses and their patients safe.

Speaking at this year’s Euroanaesthesia conference , she called for a new approach to night shifts and efforts to manage the risks of tiredness among healthcare staff.

Staffing schedules should allow sufficient time between

Power naps and avoiding more than three night shifts in a row are vital to keep nurses and their patients safe, says expert on workplace fatigue

Picture of a nurse taking a nap
Picture: iStock

Nurses should take 20-minute power naps when working nights and not do more than three night shifts in a row, says a leading researcher on workplace fatigue.

Consultant anaesthetist Nancy Redfern, who has spearheaded research into fatigue among healthcare professionals, said these measures were vital to help keep nurses and their patients safe.

Speaking at this year’s Euroanaesthesia conference, she called for a new approach to night shifts and efforts to manage the risks of tiredness among healthcare staff.

Staffing schedules should allow sufficient time between shifts for proper rest

‘Those working night shifts must ensure everyone gets a power nap and that we support each other to remain safe and vigilant when working through the night,’ said Dr Redfern, who works for Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

‘Staffing schedules should allow sufficient time between shifts for proper rest and no one should do more than three night shifts in a row.’

She highlighted research that suggests about half of nurses, trainee doctors and consultants had experienced an accident or near miss when driving home after a night shift.

A Nursing Standard survey in 2019 found one in four nurses reported having a car accident or near miss when driving home tired after work. Of the 1,955 nurses who said they drove to work, three quarters reported feeling tired or drowsy on the journey home. Worryingly, 7% or 141 drivers admitted having fallen asleep at the wheel.

Healthcare needs risk management systems such as those used in other safety-critical work

Dr Redfern said short power naps could help prevent uncontrolled ‘sleep lapses’ or ‘microsleeps’ that make it dangerous to drive home when tired.

She also warned that tiredness could harm patient care but said guidelines on fatigue for healthcare professionals were often not followed. ‘When fatigue sets in, we in the medical and nursing team are less empathic with patients and colleagues, vigilance becomes more variable and logical reasoning is affected, making it hard to calculate, for example, correct doses of drugs.’

Fatigue also affects the ability to think flexibly and retain new information, making it harder to react quickly in an emergency. ‘Everything that makes us and our patients safe is affected,’ she added.

She said there was a need for formal risk management systems in healthcare similar to those used in other safety-critical work environments such as airlines and air traffic control.


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