The shift-work system in nursing was implemented due to the need for 24-hour nursing care and supervision. However, apart from affecting sleep quality, working night shifts in the long term could lead to negative effects on one’s cardiovascular health.

Night shifts lead to negative effects on nurses’ health

In 1995, a research led by Kawachi found 51% significant risk in Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) among women nurses who engaged more than six years of rotating night shift, within four years of follow-up studies. A study published in 2016 found that rotating night shifts for over five years was significantly related to a small increase in the risk of CHD. The study was conducted by Céline Vetter, from the Channing Division of Network Medicine, alongside two other researchers.

Upon reviewing 24 years of follow-up data, it was observed that there was 12% increased risk for less than five years, 19% for five to nine years and 27% for 10 years of shift work. A basic mechanism elucidates this as frequent rotating night shifts will disturb the normal sleep cycle – and trigger the carcinogenic effects on numerous body systems, eventually increasing the risk of chronic diseases, especially CHD.

The effects of night shift in Malaysia and Singapore

In Malaysia, a moderate prevalence (57.8%) of poor sleep quality has been identified in a study among nurses in Melaka Hospital. Significantly, the prevalence of sleep disturbance was more widespread among nurses who worked shifts (62.0%) compared to non-shift working nurses (41.5%).

This could be due to night shift nurses having to carry heavier workload – as compared to day shift nurses – which increases their stress level. At night, as patients rest, nurses need to perform several tasks such as documentation. For married nurses, rotating night shifts may cause them to compromise on their relationship with their spouse, as it becomes harder to manage family responsibilities and patient care.

In Singapore, night shift has shown significant association with unhealthy behaviours, such as consuming more unhealthy snacks, relying on vending machines and less physical exercise.

Nurses need to be aware that those who work night shifts in the long term are at risk of increased CHD risk. Although working night shift is inevitable for the majority of healthcare settings, there are measures that nurses can take to reduce the chances of getting CHD. Some of these actions include engaging in more physical activities, following healthy dietary guidelines, and maintaining an ideal body weight. MIMS

Read More:
Staying up: Adjusting to the night shift
A guide to surviving the night shift for healthcare professionals
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