The nursing profession is often associated with working long shifts and being available on-call. Even though having employees present for long hours may aid work processes at medical facilities, staff might be suffering from adverse psychological and physiological outcomes of such a schedule. Nursing practice requires a high degree of precision, composure, and stress resilience, for decisions made by practitioners affect patients’ well-being and quality of life directly. This paper explains how long working shifts might hinder efficient practice and have a negative impact on nurses’ mental and physical health.
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To set out the context for the future study, it is essential to define what a long work shift is and what the current tendencies in working hours in the nursing field are. In many industries, shifts with fewer hours were found to be associated with enhanced work output and fewer errors (Spiegel, Gonen, & Weber, 2014).
However, a pattern of schedule 12-13 hour shifts has grown to be common and widely accepted in many hospitals. Griffiths et al. (2014) conducted a cross-sectional study in 12 European countries, having drawn a rather large sample of more than 31,000 respondents. The findings showed that, while the majority of nurses (50%) who participated in the research worked regular hours, around 15% of medical practitioners spent more than 12 hours a day in their workplace (Griffiths et al., 2014). Thus, extending work shifts is a global phenomenon whose implications should be studied more closely.
Working long hours may lead to sleep deprivation as such a schedule may be disruptive to nurses’ natural circadian rhythm. In their study, Kaliyaperumal, Elango, Alagesan, and Santhanakrishanan (2017) sought to compare the effects of day and night shifts on nurses’ sleep patterns. The findings revealed that 70% of shift-working medical practitioners had complaints about the quality of sleep and reported impaired cognitive faculties and lack of alertness in the workplace (Kaliyaperumal et al., 2017). Furthermore, even younger nurses shared that they were experiencing symptoms of cardiovascular conditions, which are rather associated with old age (Ferri et al., 2016). Thus, working long shifts has an adverse impact on sleep, one of the basic human needs.
There is a strong association between decreased quality of sleep and the ability to fulfill work duties appropriately. A study by Kazemi et al. (2016) revealed that both day and night shifts resulted in irregularities in respondents’ sleep cycles, fatigue, and sleepiness at work. Sleep deprivation caused by working long hours increased reaction time. Furthermore, it impaired the ability to concentrate and retain new information (Kazemi et al., 2016). The latter may mean that low quality of sleep may hinder decision-making abilities in nurses in the case of emergency.
Job satisfaction accounts for better work engagement, heightened motivation, and lower turnover rates. A study by Griffiths et al. (2014) showed that nurses working more than eight hours a day were more likely to report job dissatisfaction. The said category of nurses was also more susceptible to burnouts, which is debilitating and has lingering effects on mental health and productivity. Lastly, shift-working caregivers contributed to high turnover rates at medical facilities. Admittedly, medical practitioners were fairly dissatisfied with the lack of flexibility and freedom of choice.
In the day and age when increasingly more employers seek to foster a supportive work environment with humane conditions, it is essential to start a dialogue about working hours in the nursing field. Working longer hours is ubiquitous, and while it poses certain advantages for medical facilities, long shifts impact nurses in adverse ways. It was found that working long shifts might result in sleep deprivation which in turn might lead to the impairment of cognitive abilities in the workplace. Low quality of sleep is detrimental to work performance, and combined with the lack of flexibility, sleep deprivation may encourage a nurse to entertain the possibility of resigning.
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Ferri, P., Guadi, M., Marcheselli, L., Balduzzi, S., Magnani, D., & Di Lorenzo, R. (2016). The impact of shift work on the psychological and physical health of nurses in a general hospital: A comparison between rotating night shifts and day shifts. Risk Management and Healthcare Policy, 9, 203-211.
Griffiths, P., Dall’Ora, C., Simon, M., Ball, J., Lindqvist, R., Rafferty, A. M., …. & RN4CAST Consortium (2014). Nurses’ shift length and overtime working in 12 European countries: The association with perceived quality of care and patient safety. Medical care, 52(11), 975-981.
Kaliyaperumal, D., Elango, Y., Alagesan, M., & Santhanakrishanan, I. (2017). Effects of sleep deprivation on the cognitive performance of nurses working in shift. Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, 11(8), 1-3.
Kazemi, R., Haidarimoghadam, R., Motamedzadeh, M., Golmohamadi, R., Soltanian, A., & Zoghipaydar, M. R. (2016). Effects of shift work on cognitive performance, sleep quality, and sleepiness among petrochemical control room operators. Journal of Circadian Rhythms, 14. Web.
Spiegel, U., Gonen, L. D., & Weber, M. (2014). Duration and optimal number of shifts in the labour market. Applied Economics Letters, 21(6), 429-432.