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Sleep Deprived? Read this before taking that extra shift.

photo by: Filomena Scalise

No one is depriving me of sleep except myself, but that doesn’t mean my body accepts it any better. Like many nurses I work five days in a row, start early, grab just a bite for lunch, and stay late to finish my charting. Add on three to four hours of commuting time each day, family demands, and a bit of time at the gym once in a while to try to stay healthy — what seems most easily cut out? Sleep.

But routinely sleeping less than eight hours a day has it consequences. For me, it’s what’s called “driving drowsy.” At a red light on my way home I decided to just close my eyes for a second, and suddenly the driver behind me was blowing his horn because the light had turned green and I was sound asleep. New Jersey has passed “Maggie’s Law,” which recognizes that lack of any sleep in 24 hours is just as dangerous as driving while intoxicated.

Besides driving, how about all the other nursing functions that require our full attention, such as passing medication? The aviation industry has recognized that lack of sleep decreases critical thinking ability and has sleep standards for employees. In nursing, we pride ourselves on our ability to cover extra shifts when a colleague is sick or take on overtime work for extra pay. Is it a good idea?

A study done at the University of Pennsylvania reported in the National Institute of Health News showed that for 48 individuals between the ages of 21 and 38, getting only four to six hours of sleep each night for 14 consecutive nights was the equivalent of getting no sleep at all for three days in a row. We would consider that torture. A National Science Foundation study shows that 15 percent of all Americans now get less than six hours of sleep a night instead of the eight hours considered necessary.

Dr. Lawrence J. Epstein, medical director of the Harvard-affiliated Sleep HealthCenters, states that it may take months to get back into a natural sleep pattern for the chronically sleep deprived, not just a weekend of sleeping in.

What does that mean for you? Repeat the mantra, “Sleep is important to me,” and recognize that without a sufficient amount, you are doing everyone, including your patients, a disservice. Work with your facility to develop policies that reinforce the goal of employee health, forego that evening caffeinated beverage, and find the sleep pattern that works for you.

Synidicated from The Working Nurse by, Christine Contillo, RN, BSN

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