When nurses can sleep soundly, so can hospital leaders

Hospitals are working to make it easier for patients to sleep, but they can also improve outcomes by giving nurses on late shifts the chance to nap, argues a column on Medscape Medical News.  

There’s ample precedent for employee naps in industries that involve 24-hour operations--and even within the healthcare industry--writes Laura Stokowski, R.N., but the practice has made little headway within nursing. “There is a persistent stigma attached to nurses taking naps, and moreover, most hospitals have written, enforceable policies against sleeping at work,” she writes. “Nurses are somehow expected to be immune to fatigue--they are the ‘Energizer bunnies’ of healthcare who just keep going and going, without sleep, without breaks and without complaint.”

To test the idea, Stokowski writes, a team of nurse researchers implemented a pilot project involving a single nursing unit. The unit’s staff developed a plan for allowing naps, put together a designated space and planned for safeguards so there were no gaps in patient care during the process. Over a three-month period, participating nurses ranked their sleepiness levels on a 10-point scale. The average pre-nap score was a 6, while only 1.3 percent of nurses reported they were “very groggy” after waking up.

Nurses reported feeling “alert and refreshed” after 52.6 percent of naps, and the majority considered it a helpful option during a long shift. Numerous participants also reported the program made them less drowsy on their drive home, a particularly significant side effect in light of a 2015 car accident that claimed the life of a Johns Hopkins University nurse driving home at 8:00 a.m., according to the article.

At this point, Stokowski writes, the primary reason napping programs aren’t catching on is steadfast opposition from administrators, many of whom work shifts far closer to the typical nine-to-five and are unfamiliar with the experience of working into the early hours of the morning.

- read the Medscape column