Nurses Sleep Less Before Shifts, Which Could Impact Care


Nurses tend to sleep less before a shift, which could impact patient care, according to recent research conducted at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing.

Nurses tend to sleep less before a shift, which could impact patient care, according to recent research conducted at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing.1

Nurses Report Less Sleep

Researchers surveyed more than 1,500 nurses about their sleep, work characteristics, and self-rated safety and quality of care. On average, nurses who were working 12-hour (or longer) shifts slept for just under 7 hours, which is less than the National Sleep Foundation’s 7 to 9-hour recommendation. Additionally, 11.4% of nurses reported that they slept only 5 hours before their shift.

Nurses also reported getting an average of 83 more minute of sleep when they did not have work.

“While we did not ask [why they slept less], evidence suggests that when nurses work long shifts (i.e., 12+ hours plus a commute to and from work), that their sleep opportunity shrinks considerably. With other personal responsibilities to attend to, sleep is often sacrificed, especially when shifts are consecutive,” said Amy Witkoski Stimpfel, PhD, RN, assistant professor at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing and the lead author on the study, in an interview with Oncology Nursing News®.

Further, oncology nurses are often stressed at work, and may experience emotional distress and worry for their ill patients. This could also affect sleep.

“Sleep and work stress are definitely linked. In another study that I conducted, with results forthcoming, we found this exact relationship. Nurses were often unable to fall asleep after a stressful shift. Then, they became more stressed because they could not fall asleep. It’s a problematic cycle of stress and sleep loss,” Stimpfel said.

Impacts on Patient Care

A lack of sleep — especially when it becomes a pattern – can impact an individual’s functioning, leading to potential sacrifices in quality of patient care.

“Research on the effects of sleep loss, even chronic partial sleep loss, can have profound effects on our behavior, health, and performance,” Stimpfel said. “Things like decision making, effective communication, and emotional regulation can all be hindered, which can then impact how nursing care is delivered to patients and families.”

Nurses Can Improve Their Sleep

Despite busy lifestyles and workplace stress, there are steps that oncology nurses can take to improve their sleep, according to Stimpfel.

She suggests creating a healthy sleep environment, that is dark, cool, and quiet. Temperature control and white noise can be helpful, too. Stimpfel emphasized that there should be no screens in the bedroom because the blue light signals the brain to be awake. She also said not to consume caffeine, alcohol, or other drugs before bedtime.

“Some people find exercise too close to bedtime is also stimulating. Also, if you wake up and cannot go back to sleep after about 30 minutes, it is suggested to get out of bed and do something quietly for a little, like reading, before returning to bed again,” she said.

Stimpfel explained that there has lately been an increased focus on clinician wellbeing, especially as it relates to patient care.

“These findings support the idea that in order to care for others, nurses, like other healthcare providers, must be well-rested to provide optimal patient care,” she said.


1. Stimpfel AW, Fatehi F, Covner C. Nurses' sleep, work hours, and patient care quality, and safety. Sleep Health. 2019.

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