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More time between shifts help nurses recover: study

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Kuopio, Finland – Longer breaks between shifts can help nurses bounce back from the demands of work, according to research from the University of Eastern Finland.

Researchers studied the effects of longer rest periods among 39 female shift-working nurses based on their heart rate variability, a sign of recovery. The number of their brief breaks – 11 hours or shorter – between shifts were cut in half. Before the change and one year later, researchers surveyed the nurses and noted their heart rate variability while at work, away from work and during sleep.

They found that decreasing brief breaks helped the nurses recover from work. The nurses had “higher parasympathetic activation and lower sympathetic activation of the autonomic nervous system” during their early hours of sleep, indicating the body was relaxed while recovering from stress, according to a press release.

Researchers recommended a “forward-rotating shift system” so that one work shift follows a later shift, giving nurses time to recover. For example, a nurse would work a morning shift after working an evening shift. Otherwise, the “backwards-rotating shift system” has breaks shorter than 11 hours between night and morning shifts.

The study was published online June 2 in Clinical Nursing Studies.