Night-Shift Nurses: Take Heart

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Nurses and Heart HealthWorking the night shift is bad for your health. This may not be news to night-shift nurses, but a recent study linked nurses who worked rotating night shifts for six years or more as 19 to 23 percent more likely to die from heart disease than those with little or no night-shift work.

In addition to cardiovascular disease, the researchers also found an association with night-shift work and cancer, high blood pressure, chronic fatigue and sleep problems. The research was led by Dr. Eva Schernhammer at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, who studied 74,862 nurses enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study.

The researchers think the night-shift work disrupts the production of melatonin and the systems that control heart rate and inflammation. Properly metabolizing blood sugars and fats is also affected. Rotating shift work is defined in the study as working at least three nights per month in addition to days or evenings in that month.

Nurses are already at risk for heart attacks. Over 90 percent of nurses are women, and cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for women. And cardiovascular nurses are not immune to the risks. A survey conducted by the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association in 2008 showed 47 percent of the nurses were overweight, 43 percent exercised no more than twice a week and 50 percent ate fewer than the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

Nurses know what they should be doing in order to stay healthy, but implementing these behaviors into daily practice is a challenge. Here are some tips on how night-shift nurses can take better care of themselves and lower their risks for heart disease.

Eating healthy

• Eat a nutritious breakfast every day.

• Steer clear of the hospital vending machines, as these are usually stocked with candy, soft drinks, potato chips and other unhealthy items.

• Embrace grazing by eating smaller and more frequent meals. Stock up on healthy snacks such as raw carrots and celery sticks, hummus, nuts, fresh fruit, dried fruits and yogurt.

• Drink plenty of water and fruit juice.

Increasing activity

• Track your calorie intake and activity with a diet and fitness mobile app on your smartphone.

• Take the stairs whenever possible.

• If time is an issue to getting enough exercise, break your activity into 10- to 15-minute increments. Walk at lunch before you sit down to eat, or walk 15 minutes in the halls on your way out the door.

• Find a buddy to walk with during breaks or after work and hold each other accountable.

Improving sleep

• The UCLA Sleep Center recommends night-shift workers take a 90-minute nap before reporting for work.

• In a Reuters Health article, Schernhammer suggests night-shift nurses wear dark glasses and take melatonin to improve the quality of their sleep during the day.

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