Multiple studies in recent years have found that far too many Americans get far too little sleep. Worse, a number of those studies have confirmed that the very people we most need thinking clearly, paying attention to details, and staying physically and emotionally healthy are the very people getting the least sleep.

A new study now finds that registered nurses get too little sleep especially before their work shifts, when they need it most.

Shift work and quality work are uneasy partners

Too little sleep leads to trouble handling complex and stressful tasks. In nurses, sleep deprivation can lead to serious errors in care, including medication errors and decision-making. Similar, sometimes tragic effects are familiar in a very wide array of other professions.

Hospital nurses commonly do “shift work,” often including 12-hour shifts that can frequently run over into unscheduled overtime. Virtually all also deal with the many hallmarks of most Americans’ lives, including long commutes, the needs of their family, home ownership and the like.

Too little sleep and lower quality care

The nurses in the study group were mostly acute care hospital nurses, On average, they got 83 minutes of sleep less the night before a shift than they did the night before they did not work.

This nearly 1.5 hours less sleep is significant enough to presumably affect quality of work. And indeed, the measures of the quality of care examined in the study shored a statistically significant effect.

Make up sleep rarely an option

The lead author of the study had little optimisms that the nurses were able to somehow get enough “catch-up” sleep.

She said research shows that after multiple days of too little sleep, a healthy adult needs multiple days of extended sleep, meaning 10 hours in bed. Given the typical schedule of at least 12 hours on and 12 hours off, followed by a two-day break before beginning again, the nurses were unlikely get any relief.