Cognitive functioning of female nurses during the night shift: The impact of age, clock time, time awake and subjective sleepiness

Nataly Zion, Tamar Shochat

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Decline in cognitive functioning in the workplace is a major concern for health care systems. Understanding factors associated with nighttime functioning is imperative for instituting organizational risk management policies and developing personalized countermeasures. The present study aims to identify individual factors associated with cognitive functioning during the night shift of hospital nurses working on irregular rotating-shift schedules. Ninety-two female nurses were recruited from 17 wards in two general hospitals, using convenience sampling by clusters. Inclusion criteria were working at least 28 h a week (75% of full time) and one night shift per week. Exclusion criteria were pregnancy, diagnosed sleep disorders or medical conditions that may affect sleep and/or function. Cognitive performance was measured during the middle (03:00 h) and at the end (07:00 h) of the night shift using the Digit Symbol Substitution Task (DSST) and the Letter Cancellation Task (LCT) over two night shifts. Subjective sleepiness was assessed by the Karolinska Sleepiness Scale (KSS) at the same time points. All participants completed a sociodemographic questionnaire, the Munich ChronoType Questionnaire for Shift-Workers (MCTQShift) and the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI). Sleep duration 24 h before the night shift and time awake since last sleep opportunity were monitored by actigraphy. Univariate repeated measures ANOVA found main effects for clock time (p<0.001), age (p<0.05), time awake (p<0.05) and sleepiness (p<0.01) for DSST correct responses; main effects for clock time (p<0.001) and sleepiness (p<0.001) for LCT capacity; and main effects for clock time (p<0.001) and age (p<0.01) for LCT omission errors. All factors remained significant in a mixed-model analysis for DSST. Cognitive performance among hospital nurses is low during the middle of the night shift and increases at the end of the shift; decreased functioning is associated with increased subjective sleepiness, older age and prolonged time awake. Identifying factors contributing to performance during the night shift may provide a basis for the development of risk management policies and preventative interventions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1595-1607
Number of pages13
JournalChronobiology International
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2 Nov 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, © 2018 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.


  • Shift work
  • nurses
  • performance
  • sleepiness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology (medical)
  • Physiology


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