Sleeping during shift breaks

I have just started working on a medical/surgical unit in an acute care hospital. During breaks, it is common for nurses to go to the lounge and sleep. Sometimes, I have to wake them up to return to duty. I’m uncomfortable with this practice, but my colleagues tell me that they can do what they like on their breaks. How should I handle this situation?

A nurse’s primary responsibility is to her or his clients. Because of this, deciding what to do on a break is influenced by many factors. The most important of these factors are the needs and safety of the client, the adequacy of staffing and the potential for sudden changes in client care needs.

Clarifying employer expectations is important in identifying whether sleeping during breaks is an accepted practice in your workplace. You could also consult your collective agreement to see if it discusses break activities.

Other questions related to sleeping during breaks may include:

  • Do I feel refreshed or drowsy after sleeping?
  • Does this interfere with my ability to provide care?
  • Am I accessible to colleagues if they need assistance during my break (i.e., can they find me and wake me up)?

Because the nurse also has a responsibility to contribute to positive team functioning and to support colleagues, it may be helpful to tell your colleagues about the discomfort you experience when you must wake them. See what other strategies could be identified.

The information on this page can be used to initiate discussion with your colleagues. It may also be helpful to involve your health and safety committee or professional practice leader.


Page last reviewed June 07, 2022