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Effects of night work on sleep, cortisol and mood of female nurses, their husbands and children


Correspondence: Dr Elizabeth Lowson, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Southampton, Nightingale Building (67), Highfield, Southampton SO17 1BJ, UK. Email:


Negative impacts of night work on employees are well documented, but little is known about immediate consequences for family members. This study examines how night work within a rotating shift pattern affects the sleep, mood and cortisol levels of female nurses, their husbands and children. Participants included twenty nurses (42.7 ± 6.5 years), their husbands and children (n = 34, 8–18 years) who completed sleep diaries, rated their sleep quality, alertness and mood daily, and collected saliva samples each morning and evening for 14 days. Comparisons were made between night work and other shifts (Wilcoxon Signed Ranks test); and between periods preceding, during and following night shifts (repeated measures ANOVA with Tukey post hoc tests). Nurses' sleep after the final night shift was significantly shorter (3 h 58 min ± 46 min) and ended significantly earlier (13:28 ± 0:48 h) than after the first night shift (sleep duration 5 h 17 min ± 1 h 36 min; wake time 14:58 ± 1:41 h) (P < 0.05, n = 16). Nurses felt significantly more sleepy with worse mood during night work compared to periods without night work. Bedtime for pre-teenage children (n = 15) was significantly later when mothers were working night shifts. Teenage children (n = 19) felt significantly calmer when their mothers were working night shifts. This study found significant negative impacts of night shifts on nurses. Despite some changes to children's sleep and mood, most parameters were unaffected. There was an absence of changes to husbands' sleep and mood. This suggests nurses' night work has minimal impacts on family members participating in our study.

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