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.