1. Newland, Jamesetta RN, PhD, FNP-BC, FAANP, FNAP

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Getting enough sleep can be difficult for many people, especially nurses. Our lives have become so busy and connected by instant access modes that the number of hours available to complete our tasks seems to be dwindling every day. Sleep experts have established the recommended number of hours of sleep per day/night according to age but just how much sleep is enough?

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What the experts say

Researchers have discovered a gene mutation that is associated with what has been named "human short sleep phenotype."1 The gene appears to be involved in the regulation of sleep quantity. Individuals with the identified genetic mutation or carriers of the gene required less sleep than individuals without this genotype (average sleep time of 6.25 hours daily versus 8.06 hours). A total of 70 families participated in the sleep studies. Even though data were self-reported and the study found only two members in one family who were carriers of the gene, a mother-daughter pair, ages 69 and 44 years old, respectively, scientists were encouraged and further investigations were conducted with mice and fruit flies to find support for the preliminary findings.


Much of the language in the Science article is highly technical but several terms are very familiar to nurses: circadian rhythm, waking behavioral drive, chronic partial sleep curtailment, sleep deprivation, and cumulative sleep debt. "Understanding the regulatory mechanisms of sleep quality and quantity will facilitate the development of interventions to alleviate pathologies associated with sleep disturbance."1 Researches concluded that sleep deprivation really can impair an individual's health and daily living. NPs and other healthcare professionals encounter patients with complaints of disordered sleep every day so this study's findings have clinical significance for daily practice. The report serves to remind us that regularly assessing patients' sleep habits should be a routine part of taking a patient history at initial and subsequent visits.


Getting the sleep you need

In spite of persons who feel that time spent sleeping is wasted time, sleep does serve a purpose to maintain physical and mental health. Lifestyle behaviors, such as the consumption of alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine contribute to disturbances in an individual's sleep patterns. In general, adults are encouraged to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. The quality of sleep is also an important factor. Does the person awaken feeling rested and refreshed? If not, this too is cause for concern. The neurons used while awake are given a chance to repair during sleep. In addition, sleep gives the brain a chance to organize and archive memories and sort through all the stimuli from the day, lowers energy consumption, boosts the immune system, and helps the body repair muscles and other tissues. On the other hand, the negative effects of too little sleep or poor quality of sleep include attention and memory deficits, excessive daytime sleepiness, and increased use of over-the-counter and prescription sleep drugs and other stimulants.


Making help available

After assessing a patient's sleep patterns and needs, NPs should initiate appropriate interventions such as behavior modification, counseling, pharmacologic strategies, or referral to an expert for sleep studies. The discovery of the human short sleep phenotype and the possibilities the discovery opens are promising for improving nursing practice and helping patients with sleep disorders.2


For more information on sleep disorders, visit the National Sleep Foundation ( and the National Institutes of Health's National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website (


Jamesetta Newland, RN, PhD, FNP-BC, FAANP, FNAP

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1. He Y, Jones CR, Fujiki N, et al. The transcriptional repressor DEC2 regulates sleep length in mammals. Science. 2009;325:866-870. [Context Link]


2. Parker-Pope T. Mutation tied to need for less sleep is discovered. New York Times. August 13, 2009. [Context Link]