The relationship between nurse work schedules, sleep duration, and drowsy driving

Sleep. 2007 Dec;30(12):1801-7. doi: 10.1093/sleep/30.12.1801.


Study objectives: Recent studies have shown that extended shifts worked by hospital staff nurses are associated with significantly higher risk of errors, yet little information is available about the ability to remain alert during the nurses' commutes following the completion of an extended work shift. The purpose of this study is to describe the prevalence of drowsy driving episodes and the relationship between drowsy driving and nurse work hours, alertness on duty, working at night, and sleep duration.

Participants: Data were collected from 2 national random samples of registered nurses (n=895).

Measurements and results: Full-time hospital staff nurses (n=895) completed logbooks on a daily basis for 4 weeks providing information concerning work hours, sleep duration, drowsy and sleep episodes at work, and drowsy driving occurrences. Almost 600 of the nurses (596/895) reported at least 1 episode of drowsy driving, and 30 nurses reported experiencing drowsy driving following every shift worked. Shorter sleep durations, working at night, and difficulties remaining awake at work significantly increased the likelihood of drowsy driving episodes.

Conclusions: Given the large numbers of nurses who reported struggling to stay awake when driving home from work and the frequency with which nurses reported drowsy driving, greater attention should be paid to increasing nurse awareness of the risks and to implementing strategies to prevent drowsy driving episodes to ensure public safety. Without mitigation, fatigued nurses will continue to put the public and themselves at risk.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic / prevention & control
  • Accidents, Traffic / statistics & numerical data
  • Adult
  • Automobile Driving*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Disorders of Excessive Somnolence / diagnosis
  • Disorders of Excessive Somnolence / epidemiology
  • Disorders of Excessive Somnolence / nursing*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital*
  • Occupational Diseases / diagnosis
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology
  • Occupational Diseases / nursing*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sleep Deprivation / diagnosis
  • Sleep Deprivation / epidemiology
  • Sleep Deprivation / nursing*
  • Sleep Stages*
  • Wakefulness
  • Work Schedule Tolerance*