Working the night shift can be particularly arduous and even dangerous for workers like doctors and nurses. They need to take 20-minute power naps, according to an expert who will discuss such naps’ importance for the safety of health workers and their patients.

Sleep isn’t just a time of rest as it is an “essential” part of people’s overall health. However, about a third of Americans actually get less than six hours of sleep. This is especially more common among those in the medical field and other jobs that require shift work, the Sleep Foundation said.

This is exactly what Consultant Anesthetist Dr. Nancy Redfern of Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Newcastle, U.K., will be discussing during the Euroanesthesia congress in Milan, Italy, from June 4-6, the European Society of Anaesthesiology and Intensive Care (ESAIC) noted in a news release.

The discussion will also include a presentation of various evidence on how fatigue can impact health care workers and their patients.

“When fatigue sets in, we in the medical and nursing team are less empathic with patients and colleagues, vigilance becomes more variable, and logical reasoning is affected, making it hard to calculate, for example, the correct doses of drugs a patient needs,” Dr. Redfern explained, as per ESAIC. “We find it hard to think flexibility, or to retain new information which make it difficult to manage quickly changing emergency situations. Our mood gets worse, so our teamwork suffers. Hence, everything that makes us and our patients safe is affected.”

Furthermore, even the workers’ safety may be compromised, with previous data showing that about half of trainee doctors, consultants and nurses have experienced an accident or near-accident while driving home after the night shift, ESAIC noted. The four-hour difference between a 12-hour shift and an 8-hour shift is also quite relevant, as those who had the longer 12-hour shift have been found to be “twice as likely” to crash than those in the latter.

Dr. Redfern will also discuss some of the ways to mitigate these risks. For instance, there has been evidence to support the importance of 20-minute power naps for the safety of both the patients and the workers. She also recommends not having someone on the night shift three times in a row to give the workers time for proper rest.

“We hope in the end that regulators will recognize that healthcare workers have the same physiology as employees in every other safety-critical industry and require formal fatigue risk management as part of its overall approach to patient and staff safety,” Dr. Redfern said, according to ESAIC. “We need to change the way we manage night shifts to mitigate the effects of fatigue.”

Indeed, the importance of sleep cannot be understated. Apart from the immediate effects of sleep deprivation on people’s work, school or driving, not having enough sleep on a regular basis may also increase people’s risks of conditions such as heart disease, stroke and hypertension.

Although the Sleep Foundation provides useful tips on how to recover from sleep debt, it also noted that the easiest way to avoid its consequences is to “avoid accumulating sleep debt in the first place.”

“Learn how much sleep your body needs and prioritize sleep as one of the most important ways to care for your body,” the organization noted.