A stressed nurse
Photo credit: Charday Penn/Getty Images Plus

The effects of poor sleep shouldn’t be overlooked in nurses — especially those who work night shifts, a new study suggests.

Study participants included 392 nurses who in 2018 reported the duration, quality and efficiency of their sleep for 14 days as well as their nightmare severity. Fully 80% reported good overall sleep; 11% described poor overall sleep; and 8% were sorted into the “nightmares only” group. The latter group had average sleep quality but above-average levels of persistent nightmares.

Nurses in the poor overall sleep group were more likely to be recent night-shift workers than their peers in the good overall sleep group. These nurses also reported worse sleep quality, more symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, and more depression, insomnia, severe anxiety and perceived stress than their peers in the good overall sleep group.

In addition, Black nurses made up 23% of the poor overall sleep group, although they represented only 7% of the total sample. This could be due to experiences of discrimination, which have been shown to be related to poor sleep health, said co-author Jessee Dietch, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at Oregon State University. In addition, socioeconomic factors and caregiving responsibilities outside of working hours could also play a part in this discrepancy, she added. 

“I think the main finding here is that sleep is important and should not be overlooked when we’re considering the picture of someone’s health, especially in fields that require a lot of attention and care and emotional involvement, like nursing,” Dietch said.

Effective interventions exist for many different sleep disorders, including insomnia and even nightmares, she said. But awareness of treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy is low and these options are not often offered to patients, she added.

“People don’t know these treatments are out there and that they work really well, often better and faster than other mental health treatments, and we don’t have enough providers,” Dietch said. “It’s hard to get the word out.” 

Full findings were published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine.