General Nursing, Nursing Staff Development

Research on Shift Work

November 1984 – Night Shift

After finishing my first rounds on the nurses in orientation, I paged the security guard so he could admit me to the library. I signed in on the clipboard and noticed there were several interns and residents also here, probably preparing for their next presentation. From a child, I have always loved to go to the library and check out books – like going on a treasure hunt. I went over to the long row of the large red Medline books that listed all the medical and nursing journals by subject and date. I looked under “Shift Work” and began to write down the Journal title, issue, date, and page numbers of the articles. After I had written down about 10 articles, I went to the stacks and began to pull the bound journals. Because this was a large teaching hospital, we had an excellent library. I turned to the page number, scanned the article, and if it looked good, placed a book marker. Then I took my stack of journals to the copy machine and copied and stapled each article. I stuck my stack of new articles in my notebook, signed out of the library, and went back to my office to begin to read. I highlighted in yellow the best points and began to take notes. I discovered that most of the research had been done on factory workers rather than nurses.

Night shift was taking its toll on me. (photo by R. Spearrin-used with permission)
Working night shift took its toll on me.
(photo by R. Spearrin-used with permission)

After working full-time night shift for over 4 years, my body felt the toll, becoming more and more difficult to turn my body around on the weekends during my two days off. I asked God to give me grace and strength to endure or deliver me by giving me a job on day shift again with weekends off so I could sleep better and be more involved with the ministry at church. While I waited, I asked my director if I could do a research project on how shift work affects nurses? She readily agreed. I’m excited about learning something new, and hopefully, I’ll pick up some hints that will help me cope better.

After I finished my review of the literature, I asked my director if I could do a survey of the nurses and compose the results to present at our annual hospital research symposium. She excitedly gave me the go-ahead. I contacted the hospital research review board, and they gave me a packet to complete about my project to submit for approval before I could proceed.

At their next meeting, they said I could go ahead with a pilot survey and then submit the results to them. I typed a four-page survey and gave it to five nurses on each of the three shifts to complete. I compiled the results and made a few changes to the survey. Then the review board gave me permission to conduct a large survey of nurses.

Since the hospital administration required every staff nurse to either rotate shifts or work full-time evening or night shift, I surveyed an equal number of rotators and permanent shift nurses.  The results showed that the night shift rotators had the most difficulty adjusting to the off shift compared to the permanent night shift nurses. The evening rotators did not struggle at all. This made sense since they did not need to adjust their sleep schedule as much as the night shift. Based on my results, I made a one-page handout to give the nurses in orientation with suggestions for adjusting to the shift change. I made a poster of the results and presented it at the annual research symposium.

April 1985

The Lord wonderfully opened the door for me to work on day shift in Staff Development. How I thanked Him for His perfect timing. My body is starting to feel normal again without the constant headaches from lack of sleep. And I don’t fall asleep at every red light when I drive home.

Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all. Psalm 34:19


I no longer have my research results or the handout due to my many moves over the years, but I discovered they now call it Shift Work Disorder (SWD). This video talks about the increased risk of heart attack, stroke, smoking, and breast cancer for those who work shifts, especially nights.

This article gives hints to help with Shift Work Disorder.

I’m glad there are some nurses that seem to be able to sleep easily at any time of day or night but I’m not one of them.  I never have worked night shift since then. With the advent of the computer, research is a breeze now. Gone are the days of lugging heavy bound journals to the copy machine. But libraries are still one of my favorite places to visit. And the best part is they are free.

Please share in the comments section any hints you have that have helped you adjust to the night shift.

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