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Recent Nurse Study Suggests Bright Light Exposure May Reduce Fatigue, Error

15 May, 2023 F.J. Thomas

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Sarasota, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – Working night shifts can play havoc on worker’s sleep. Some studies have suggested that the most consistent effects of sleep deprivation is reduced attention, as well as reduced sustained attention, resulting in increased odds of workplace accidents, as well as errors on the job.

Nigh time exposure to bright light can shift circadian rhythms and help with adapting to night shifts, in addition to improving mood, cognitive performance and alertness. However, some studies have shown that bright light exposure after dark has been associated as a risk for obesity, depression, and cancer.

Night shifts among nurses is common in an effort to create continuity of care for patients. Considering the high rate of burnout among healthcare workers, it is no surprise that night shifts could be a contributor. In a 2021 study investigating the struggles of nurses that worked night shifts, the researchers found that nurses commonly complained of fatigue and poor sleep quality, ultimately potentially putting patients at risk, and themselves at greater risks for workplace injuries.

Researchers from McGill University in Montreal, Canada recruited 57 nurses who worked rotating full-time schedules to complete a survey asking about fatigue, work-related errors, sleepiness, sleep quality, and mood. The researchers tested the efficacy of a circadian-based intervention utilizing 40 minutes of bright light exposure in the evening, compared to the results a control group who changed their diet in an effort to improve their alertness and sleep.

The researchers saw a 67 percent reduction in errors, compared to only a 5 percent reduction in the control group. Most of the errors were related to medications, with 28 percent giving medication at the wrong dose or time. Procedural errors account for 26 percent of the errors, such as forgetting to do a blood draw. Charting errors such as dictating on the wrong patient account totaled 21 percent of the errors. The researchers noted that potentially serious errors included puncturing one’s finger with a used needle, not noticing that a patient had removed his anti-wandering bracelet and exited the unit, and forgetting to check a patient’s fluid drainage tube for kinks, which resulted in respiratory distress. Overall, the participants reported more fatigue before the shifts in which they made errors.

Both the light group and the control group reported reductions in fatigue. However, 73 percent of the light intervention group reported improvements in fatigue, compared to only 41 percent of the control group.

Overall, the researchers believe the results of the study are promising, and that more research on evening light exposure combined with morning light avoidance and scheduled sleep times is needed. Given that fatigue has been linked to high turnover rates among nurses and healthcare staff, in addition to increased errors and on the job injuries, the researchers believe that education on circadian intervention methods could be a valuable tool for employers.


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    About The Author

    • F.J. Thomas

      F.J. Thomas has worked in healthcare business for more than fifteen years in Tennessee. Her experience as a contract appeals analyst has given her an intimate grasp of the inner workings of both the provider and insurance world. Knowing first hand that the industry is constantly changing, she strives to find resources and information you can use.

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