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.