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When you work your shifts, how often do you sit down and take a breather? According to new research, nurses took a break or ate a meal free from patient-care responsibilities in only 47% of the shifts they worked during a 1-month period. In 43% of shifts, nurses took short breaks or meal periods while still being responsible for patient care. In 10% of shifts, nurses worked nonstop. However, skipping breaks or meal periods wasn't associated with a higher rate of errors.

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Researchers analyzed the breaks of 393 full-time, hospital-employed RNs. Nurses who completed logbooks for 28 days included information about work hours, duration of breaks taken during each shift, whether they were relieved of patient-care responsibilities during breaks, and errors or near errors in patient care. They also logged episodes of drowsiness or sleeping on duty.


Forty percent of shifts were longer than 12 hours. But nurses who worked the longer shifts weren't any more likely to take a break than nurses who worked shorter shifts.


Nurses who didn't take a break made no more errors in patient care than those who took breaks. But when nurses do take breaks, a longer break seems to protect patients better than a shorter one: Breaks averaged 23.8 minutes on shifts without errors, and only 16.2 minutes on shifts in which errors occurred. Overall, nurses had 10% less risk of making at least one error when breaks and meals were 10 minutes longer.


Researchers hypothesize that nurses who feel they must work through breaks and meals may be more susceptible to burnout and leave the profession than nurses who regularly take breaks.




The effects of work breaks on staff nurse performance, The Journal of Nursing Administration, AE Rogers, et al., November 2004.