Sleeping, Catnapping, Dozing: Right or Wrong?


Some nurses love working the night shift. Others hate working but have no choice.

To sleep, perchance to dream… or at least be more alert for the rest of the shift.

Working overnight is a reality in nursing. No matter how advanced nursing care will ever get, there will have to be someone on hand to give care during the night hours.

Some nurses love working the night shift. Either they’re natural night owls or their lives fit well around working the night shift. Others hate working nights but have no choice. There’s often debate over whether it’s better to work only night shifts or to work rotation shifts and work nights on a regular basis, rotating with the other shifts — there has yet to be a consensus either way.

There’s also debate as to whether nurses should be able to nap on their break when working night shifts. Some institutions are so adamantly against this practice that it’s forbidden to nap, even on your own personal time. There are also some nurses who feel that napping during a break is wrong. I used to participate in a very active nurses’ forum where this topic came up last year. I was shocked at how adamant some nurses were against napping. They weren’t against napping for themselves, they were against napping for anyone. Some went as far as to say that nurses who napped, even on their own time, were neglectful and lazy.

The other side feels that napping during a break is no different than leaving the hospital proper to have lunch or dinner during a break while working a day or evening shift. Or, it’s no different than sitting in a break room and reading a book or any other activity. How many times have we seen nurses in a break room during day or evening shifts, sitting up but with their eyes closed as they doze? So, who is right?

According to a research abstract presented on Monday, June 9, at SLEEP 2008, the 22nd Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies (APSS), it seems that the ones who want the naps should win the argument: Nurses working overnight support the need for a restorative nap during the night shift. The press release states, “Critical care nurses are trained to provide specialized nursing care, to make rapid decisions, and to perform advanced assessments and motor skills. Night shift work can lead to sleep deprivation, which in turn can threaten the health and safety of both patients and nurses” It goes on, “Napping has been suggested as a strategy to improve performance, reduce fatigue and increase vigilance in other shift work environments.”

The issue should be, in my opinion, a non-issue. What a nurse does on his or her break, as long as it’s not illegal, should be no-one’s business but that nurse’s. If a nurse finds that a quick nap helps increase alertness for the rest of the shift — what harm is caused by the nap and to whom?

I have never worked in an institution where napping was forbidden. It may not have been easy to take a nap as there were often no places to camp out, but at least it wasn’t breaking any rules if we did find a spot. Nursing has enough serious issues to be deal with. Nurses should be working together to improve their lot — and by arguing over something like if someone should be allowed to nap, we’re ignoring those important issues.

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