Taking a short nap during a 12-hour night shift can improve staff performance, a new report suggests. Researchers used various measures to assess performance and alertness in 49 nurses and physicians who worked three consecutive 12-hour night shifts in an emergency department. They randomly assigned study participants to two groups: those encouraged to take a 40-minute nap at 3 a.m. and a control group who didn't nap. Ninety percent of the nap group slept an average of 24.8 minutes.
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Tested at 4 a.m., immediately after nap time, the nappers scored lower on a memory recall test than those who hadn't napped. But at 7:30 a.m. the nap takers were still going strong, making fewer performance lapses and reporting more vigor, less fatigue, and less sleepiness than those in the control group. Tested with a computer-based catheter insertion simulation, the nap takers tended to insert an intravenous device more quickly than those in the control group.
The researchers concluded that integrating a nap into night shifts can improve performance.
Smith-Coggins R, et al., Improving alertness and performance in emergency department physicians and nurses: The use of planned naps, Annals of Emergency Medicine, November 2006.