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Although many nurses believe that shift work is risky for their health and patient safety, their well-being may hinge more on their sex, age, and weight than their work shift. In a new study with some surprising findings, nurses who seemingly didn't adapt well to shift work nevertheless worked as effectively and safely as nurses who appeared to adapt well.

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Researchers defined nurses as adaptive or nonadaptive to shift work based on two subjective complaints about sleep disorders. They found higher rates of nurses who weren't adaptive to shift work than had been reported in previous studies. This finding may be due to differences in sex, age, body mass index (BMI), and parameters for defining nurses as adaptive or not. Earlier research has established that the ability to cope with rotating shifts decreases with age and that BMI tends to rise with age.


Female nurses who work rotating shifts complained much more about sleep disorders than male nurses who did the same. Nurses who didn't adapt well to shift work experienced no more adverse effects on their health, absenteeism rates, or performance (as judged by reported errors and adverse events) than nurses who adapted well and those who worked daytime shifts only.


Researchers analyzed 738 Israeli hospital nurses. Nurses working only daytime shifts and those working rotating shifts made up the sample.


Source: Admi H, Tzischinsky O, Epstein R, Herer P, Lavie P. Shift work in nursing: is it really a risk factor for nurses' health and patients' safety? Nurs Econ. 2008;26(4):250-257.