May 28, 2019

College nursing students admit to being sleep deprived, but they might misjudge how the lack of rest impairs their care for patients, says a study from Ball State University.

Sleep deprivation in nursing students: The negative impact for quality and safety,” an analysis of 179 pre-licensure nursing students, found that the majority of the participants (87%) needed 8 or more hours sleep to feel rested. But 62% obtained 6 hours or less before class time, and more alarming, 83% received 6 hours or less before a clinical experience.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Nursing Education and Practice, was created by a research team consisting of Cynthia Thomas and Constance McIntosh, Ball State nursing professors; and Ruth Ann Lamar and Roberta Allen, faculty at Western Governors University.

The study also found that many nursing students need or choose to work while in college and/or during clinical activities requiring up to 12-hour shifts. At the same time, faculty are finding it increasingly difficult to secure clinical sites and may need to have students drive farther distances as well as use weekend and night clinical shifts.

“This potentially places the students at risk for less than optimal learning in the classroom and more significantly creates potential safety issues in the clinical environment,” Thomas said. “Other recent studies have found that cognitive abilities, reaction time, and decision-making are all negatively impacted by lack of sleep and 12-hour shifts.

“Students may mistakenly believe they are safe in a clinical environment with less than 5 hours of sleep, but the research strongly indicates they are not. All of the participants felt sleep deprived and believed they would perform better academically if they had more sleep.”

To combat fatigue, many nursing students reported they consumed caffeine or took stimulants and then consumed sleeping aids to fall or stay asleep. Thomas said this pattern may lead to future chronic health issues and potential addiction.

“These nursing students may lack the knowledge that chronic sleep deprivation may result in personal and patient safety issues when in a clinical or work setting,” she said. “Nurse educators and nurse managers must collaborate to reduce the number of consecutive clinical and work shifts, limit overtime hours, and better educate students on the negative impact of sleep deprivation.

“Educators and employers may need to collaborate to determine if limits on work and clinical experiences are needed and to teach students about proper sleep, health habits, and safety. The transition to professional practice may be improved, and students may develop better health habits that carry over to their professional careers and personal lives.”