Allowing nurses longer rest and recovery periods between shifts may improve their sleep, ability to work, and overall well-being, a new study says.

Researchers from the University of Eastern Finland and the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health studied female shift-working nurses and their number of breaks, as well as how long the breaks lasted between shifts. Nurses were surveyed and had their heart rates measured after one year.

The results showed longer breaks between shifts enhanced the nurses’ ability to recover from work. Changes in the nurses’ sleep patterns were reflective of recovery from stress, and a transition to a state of relaxation, researchers said. In order to give nurses sufficient time to recover between shifts, the researchers recommend scheduling using a forward-rotating system, in which shifts are always followed by a shift that starts later (i.e. morning shift followed by an evening shift).

The results of the study were published in Clinical Nursing Studies.