The relationship between age, sleep and health in shiftworking nurses
In this study, the relationship between age, sleep, and health in a group of shiftworking nurses was investigated. The study forms part of a larger study into the health and well-being of shiftworking nurses and midwives in England and Wales (Department of Health, 1993). First the importance of the relation between age and sleep was considered. Next, the impact of two important moderating variables, shiftwork and gender (roles), was examined. The nurses worked two very different shift systems: permanent night shifts or rotating shifts. The gender distribution in the sample was very skewed, which resulted in the inclusion of gender roles as variables. Having established the relative importance of the three variables, the next step was to investigate effects of the relation between the variables. Reduced alertness was the most important acute effect considered. Health and well-being complaints were considered as the main chronic effects. It was concluded that age has an important impact on sleep. The results however contradicted the dominant view in the literature that with age sleep always deteriorates. It was important to distinguish between sleep quantity and sleep quality. Both shiftwork and gender (roles) moderated the negative impact of age. Alertness was affected in a counterintuitive manner: older nurses reported feeling more alert compared to younger nurses. With regard to health and well-being, again results were surprising: health and well-being appeared to be more affected by reported sleep quality than by sleep duration. The results from this study were more varied and less linear than could have been assumed on the basis of the literature. It is argued that research should beware of unjust generalisations and move away from simple dichotomies and allow for a more varied and colourful picture.