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Night-shift nurses must be allowed to take naps

Nursing unions are to lobby mangers to allow nurses who work night shifts to sleep during breaks, NT has learnt.

As part of measures to look at the impact of shift work and fatigue on nurses, RCN, Unison and Unite/CPHVA representatives will discuss a strategy to promote sleep health with NHS Employers next month.

According to the Health and Safety Executive, tired workers will be less alert, find it less easy to concentrate and may make ill-judged decisions which could lead to errors, accidents and injuries.

Evidence-based guidelines from the Royal College of Physicians say it is essential that junior doctors working night shifts take naps of between 20 and 45 minutes to remain vigilant and alert.

However, there is no similar guidance for nurses. Sleep breaks for nurses depend on the policies of individual trusts and a nurse caught sleeping could face disciplinary action if sleep breaks are against hospital policy.

Kim Sunley, RCN senior employment relations officer, said: ‘The role of the nurse is equally critical to that of the doctor, yet most trusts don’t allow nurses to sleep on breaks. If doctors are allowed to sleep, why aren’t nurses?

‘We need to get the principle across that it is acceptable. We will be raising this issue with NHS Employers and possibly the NMC,’ she added.

Recent research appears to support the unions’ position. Two studies, presented in June at the annual meeting of the US Associated Professional Sleep Societies in Baltimore, found that inadequate rest damaged nursing performance.

A US study of over 2,000 nurses found that a lack of sleep led to more needlestick injuries, musculoskeletal disorders and even cardiovascular disease.

Additionally, a Canadian study of 13 critical care nurses found that those deprived of a nap during night shifts experienced nausea, irritability and severe fatigue.

Readers' comments (11)

  • Lets be clear here, night nurses are not kipping at the desk in NHS time but during their UNPAID break in their own time & they are entitled to do so.

    In some industries, such 'power naps' are actually encouraged and even paid for by employers!

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  • I work within a unit where we operate a night rotation system. If I couldn't nap on my break it would be impossible for me to do this as I can't sleep well during the day no matter what I try. I am lucky, we have 2 trained staff on duty and the unit is never left uncovered otherwise I would not be able to sleep anyway because I would be too concerned that something would happen. Trusts should have a policy that enables staff to take naps without fear of disciplinary measures. We would never leave our unit without the staffing it needs and some nights obviously we don't even take a break if we are very busy.

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  • Nurses must take naps during night duty shits. This will enhence perfomance.

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  • I work in a respite unit and we work a twelve hour night and only get paid for eleven and cannot leave the unit we work on for safety reasos yet we are not supposed to sleep , we are still expected to dispense,check and get clients dressed and then write care plans before we leave after a night shift , so while in an ideal world we would start and finish at nine we are in actual fact sometimes not leaving for at least 1/2 -3/4 of an hour after our shift and many of my collegues drive quite a distance.So yes we should be allowed to nap i'm not saying we all get cosy in our pj's but enough studies have shown the impact of working nights .

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  • Nurses on night shifts usually take their breaks in the ward environs. They are unpaid for their break time and in my experience make themselves available to be called back from their break in the event of an emergency. therfore they are sort of on-call, so why shouldn't they be able to sleep? We don't question what nurses during day shifts do on their break time.

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  • no, nurses should remain awake in order to resond to care and emerencies in an alert, orientated and informed state , both physiccal and mental. It is time to look at shift pattern changes and hours related to night working. We nurses still are being put into dated nusing regims in terms of hours, shift patterns etc

    wendy Allsop

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  • I have worked for 27 years on shift basis including a night every five days. In Malta where I come from night nurses are allowed a sleeping rest of one hour. The only condition is that the break have to be taken in the unit where the nurse work.

    I agree that the UK nurses will be also in line with those in Malta especially when the UK doctors are given the chance to a rest sleep.

    The sleeping break stimulate nurses to perform a better continuing night duty

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  • i work in an extremely busy theatre dapartment where sometimes we don't even get a proper hour break! on quieter nights though it would be nice to be able to have sleep breaks as we cannot leave the department for breaks due to the uncertainty of our workload.

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  • if the NHS refuses to pay us for our breaks then who the hell do they think they are dictating what we do on them or where we have them? i dont work nights but i feel very strongly about my above oppinion on the matter, and as for being "available in an emergancy", it is infact the law of the land that we must have so many mins break per hours worked so we should actually be covered by other members of staff whilst resting, if an emergancy happens whilst we are on a break and the ward is not properly covered to deal with it then it is the managers responsability not the nurse who is having a legally required and necessary time out! it is about damn time we all made a stand about the state of staffing on our wards.

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  • I work in an acute paediatric ward and with limited staffing how do we get the chance to even get a break let alone sleep for 45 minutes! By the end of a 12 hr shift and the thought of an hour's drive home as being stuck in rush hour traffic, it would really be nice to have a nanna nap in the wee hours to freshen myself. Dr's come and go between their rounds, we as nuses are accountable for our patients which on nights is often up to 10! So finding time for naps would be great if only we had the staff to cover our work loads while on our breaks!

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  • It would make such a difference if a nurse got even got one hours sleep at night.her work would be made so much easier.

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