"This would be an important thing for health leaders to consider. Even though space is a premium, it's an opportunity to make an investment in your staff," Scott says of creating sleep spaces. "Completely relieved breaks should be mandatory, and anything we can do to break up consecutive awake hours should be strongly encouraged."
She also says nurse leaders should consider natural circadian rhythms when scheduling. For instance, shifts that start 3:00 am, when the body naturally wants to be asleep, set nurses up to be fatigued. Twelve-hour shifts and not leaving enough rest time between shifts can also contribute to fatigue.
Reconsider 12-Hour Shifts
"Twelve-hours shifts is probably one of the worst things we ever did," she says. "It's thinking about doing things differently. [Nurse leaders should be] partnering with the staff instead of punishing them for taking breaks or covering for each other."
Scott acknowledges that cultural factors can stand in the way of taking breaks or naps. She says nurses often say they "don't get fatigued, or they just keep going or they force themselves to stay awake. That's almost physiologically impossible to do."
And although many nurses say they like working successive 12-hour shifts, and having long stretches of time off, Scott says picking up extra shifts on days off is common.