Research project will shed light on the sleep health of nurses working night shifts

In healthcare, the importance of sleep on overall health and wellness has become increasingly apparent. But one group often overlooked in sleep research is shift workers, particularly nurses navigating night or rotating schedules. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing are investigating the sleep health of these nurses to tailor interventions to their unique needs.

“Previous research, by myself and others, has demonstrated that shiftwork negatively impacts the health and well-being of nurses,” said Christopher Imes, PhD, RN, assistant professor. “As a nurse who has worked night and rotating shifts, I know first-hand the impact that working at night has on my sleep and ability to engage in healthy activities.”

Imes was awarded a grant through the Pitt Momentum Funds for his project, Examining Multidimensional Sleep Health, and Stakeholder Engagement to Inform a Behavioral Sleep Health Intervention among Nurses Working Night and Rotating Shifts. The project is funded through June of 2025.

“Overall, there has been an increased awareness regarding the role of sleep on our overall health and wellness,” said Imes. “The Multidimensional Sleep Health Framework (MDSH), developed by Dan Buysse, MD, examines multiple dimensions of sleep health such as regularity, satisfaction, alertness, timing, efficiency, and duration. This is a bit of a departure from previous research on sleep that has focused on a single dimension. But the vast majority of research on MDSH has excluded shift workers because we know that certain dimensions of their sleep health are less than ideal.”

Imes's study will specifically target shift workers, particularly nurses working night or rotating shifts. The study will employ both objective and subjective measures to comprehensively describe the sleep health of these nurses over a two-week period. By analyzing this data, the research team aims to identify patterns or behaviors that are associated with better self-reported health and wellness, potentially leading to tailored interventions.

“Additionally, the study will involve interviews with the nurses so they can describe what the different sleep dimensions mean to them in the context of shift work,” he said. “The study will also involve stakeholder engagement meetings where core concepts from a behavioral sleep intervention will be discussed to see if they meet the unique needs of nurses working night and rotating shifts.”

Central to this research is the adaptation of the Transdiagnostic Intervention for Sleep and Circadian Dysfunction (TranS-C), developed by Allison Harvey, PhD, and Dr. Buysse. Imes aims to tailor TranS-C concepts to suit the specific needs of shift-working nurses, leveraging insights gleaned from MDSH evaluations, qualitative interviews, and stakeholder discussions.

“Shiftwork in healthcare is not going anywhere,” said Imes. “Accordingly, our long-term goal is to develop an efficacious, theoretically grounded, behavioral intervention that improves the sleep health of nurses engaged in shiftwork. If we’re able to do that, then nurses will have a new tool to optimize their health. We hope that organizational policies and practices will embrace the opportunity to support their employees given the implications. Healthy nurses miss few shifts, are less likely to commit errors, and are less likely to experience burnout. Interventions focusing on the health and wellness of nurses are a win-win for the nurses and their organizations.”