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Study Finds Lack of Sleep a Health Problem for Nursing Faculty

November 29, 2021

Dennis Spellman

Nursing educators suffer from poor rest and sleep quality that will likely harm their health, according to a study led by University of Houston College of Nursing Clinical Asst. Professor Sonya Cox, DNSc, APRN, RN, FNP-BC. The article was co-authored by the Associate Professor Cheryl Brohard/Ph.D, MSN, BSN; Research Professor Teresa M. McIntyre/Ph.D, MA, MEd, FEHPS; and College of Optometry Research Assistant Professor Julia Benoit/Ph.D.

A faculty member in a white lab coat points to writing on a white board.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated and further exposed the problem according to Cox.

“During the pandemic, nurses are walking away from their jobs because they are burned out; they’re exhausted,” Cox said. “We have a nursing and nursing faculty shortage.”

The study found work stress and family issues were interfering with the nursing faculty’s ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Sleep disturbances were a problem for many of those who took part in the study. Some complained that they’d wake up thinking and were not able to get back to sleep. Others said their spouse, children or pets would wake them.

The results were accepted by Nursing Open and published in September 2021 (Evaluation of sleep quality among nursing faculty: Application of the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index—A Descriptive Correlational Study).

The amount of time participants slept at night varied from three to 10 hours for all age groups. Those age 45 and younger reported a median of six hours sleep, falling short of the National Sleep Foundation’s recommended seven to nine hours of sleep.

Middle-aged adults with children in a similar study, slept an average of 6.4 hours per night and experienced delays in getting to sleep due to the stressors of daily life and the need to improve work-family balance. The results did not vary significantly across gender, race, work status or academic rank.

The vast majority of nursing faculty reported poor sleep quality.

“I thought that poor sleep quality would be high, but I did not think it would be as high as 70.5 percent,” Cox said.

“Developing a culture of wellness in academia, which promotes self-care and sleep health, is essential to sustaining healthy nursing faculty and academic programs,” the study reported.

When Cox initially researched nursing faculty sleep deprivation, she found very limited scientific data in this population.

Cox decided to team up with other nursing and university professionals to disseminate the study.

Anxiety and constantly thinking of life and the things participants needed to accomplish were common reasons for not being able to fall asleep quickly. The median time to fall asleep was 20 minutes for nursing faculty who participated in the study with some participants reporting up to 150 minutes.

The study’s results provide insight into contributing factors experienced by nursing faculty who suffer from poor sleep quality. Cox hopes the study will encourage a discussion that will lead to changes.

“I know there is a lot of awareness about work-life balance,” Cox said. “My concern is that we don’t need to just talk about it, we need to invest in people through actionable efforts with measurable outcomes to improve sleep quality in nursing faculty.”

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