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Nurses need longer breaks between shifts, say researchers


Longer breaks between shifts can help nurses’ bodies recover from the stresses of work and boost their long-term wellbeing, according to a small study from Finland.

Researchers noted that shift work can increase the risk of many diseases, including heart disease, especially if there is not enough time for key systems to recover such as those regulating heart function and blood pressure.

However, nurses often have too little time to rest, with less than 11 hours between night and morning shifts, they warned in a paper published in the journal Clinical Nursing Studies.


The study followed 39 female nurses working shifts with an average age of 45. It set out to explore the impact of longer rest and recovery periods by measuring changes in participants’ heart rates.

Their shift patterns were changed to halve the number of breaks between shifts that were less than 11 hours long.

The nurses’ recovery from work was measured before the shift change and again one year later with heart rate recordings taken while they were on duty, off duty and asleep.

The researchers found the longer breaks resulted in “significantly better recovery” from work.

In particular, they noted positive changes during sleep that showed the body recovering from stress and relaxing.

“Our results suggest that reducing the number of short intervals between work shifts is an effective way to enhance the physiological recovery during the sleep,” said the researchers who were led by Susanna Järvelin-Pasanen.

The study, which is one of the first explorations of shift work to focus on heart rate variability during sleep, was a collaboration between the University of Eastern Finland, the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and the City of Helsinki.


Readers' comments (14)

  • Nursing is an evidence based profession that incorporates research into practice. Nurses are encouraged to research this is not just a managerial dominion.

    What appears "obvious" based on personal experience is still loose common connection this study isolated and studied cardiovascular physiology through sleep studies in shift workers to generate specific data on risks and benefits which had previously been identified due to prevalence stats of heart disease in shift workers compared to average working hours.

    Research doesn't state the obvious it hones in on specific questions and attempts to answer them logically and unbiased lay by employing a systematic methodological approach that can be replicated by other researchers. This is then translated into "working data" essentially using evidence to ensure the right thing is being done!

    Hand washing data so obvious? Perhaps some knowledge about Ignez Semmelweis and Louis Pasteur ... A classic example of what seems "obvious" based on pattern having more far-reaching consequences than anyone at that time could have envisaged.

    Nursing is an evidence based profession it is nothing got to do with management and everything got to do with best practice.

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  • Yes we must have evidence from trials in break management and anything less is pure folly. Physiological findings are imperative in order to keep our nurses functioning in a robust and an efficient manner.

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  • yeah right, only nurses have to work inhumane shifts, how can a nurse work a night shift , then a day shift after an hours break( assuming they get a break) not long before nurses are forced to work 24/7/365 shift- ie the never vallowed to go home again shift

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  • having been on old style 8 hours shifts on days and 12 hours shifts on nights, I really valued my days off albeit 2 on days and 7 on nights. Having a weekend off was once in a lifetime, but lets get back to sensible rostering so that people can think when they work and not be an automaton

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