Grad student Marisa Harrington and her supervisor Lynneth Stuart-Hill say preliminary results from a study into the affects of stress on hospital nurses show an impact on sleep and heart variability. (Courtesy of Marisa Harrington)

Grad student Marisa Harrington and her supervisor Lynneth Stuart-Hill say preliminary results from a study into the affects of stress on hospital nurses show an impact on sleep and heart variability. (Courtesy of Marisa Harrington)

University of Victoria study shows stress impact on B.C. nurses

Stress may be impacting sleep, heart health of hospital nurses in Victoria region

Early data from a new University of Victoria study reveals that the region’s nurses are experiencing stress-related health impacts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The results are early, says researcher and UVic grad student Marisa Harrington, but they show poorer sleep quality compared to the average person, as well as a reduction in heart rate variability.

Harrington, along with supervisor Lynneth Stuart-Hill, looked into the physiological impacts of stress on 10 Greater Victoria hospital nurses. Funded by UVic’s Centre for Occupational Research and Testing, participating nurses wore a watch-sized monitor over an eight-day shift rotation.

Their sleep patterns, heart rate and heart rate variability were all monitored. The stress responses were significant and similar, according to the study, regardless of the department or hospital the nurse worked in.

“We know that this is a population that feels stressed psychologically,” Harrington says. “Now, we’re establishing that there’s a measurable physiological impact as well.”

Nurse Misha Sojonky participates in a UVic study looking at health impacts of stress in hospital nurses. (Courtesy of Marisa Harrington)

Early analysis of sleep data reveals that the nurses are getting less sleep than the average person. The data also shows that they are spending more time in light sleep and less time in REM sleep – a deep phase of sleep thought to increase brain activity.

READ ALSO: Overworked and understaffed: More than 300 vacancies in Vancouver Island nursing

“We’re still analyzing, but we are seeing significant data already around sleep in particular,” Harrington says. “We’ve looked at the cardiovascular data and there is definitely an effect there as well.”

Early data shows a reduction in the nurse’s heart rate variability, which indicates that the body’s sympathetic nervous system, responsible for ‘fight, flight or freeze’ responses, is chronically dominating the parasympathetic nervous system, which works to keep the body calm.

The study wasn’t created for the pandemic but will likely shed some light on the exacerbated stresses caused by the health crisis, Harrington said. “It’s a really underrepresented group in physiological research,” she said. “From talking to the nurses, even working before the pandemic these issues have come up and the pandemic has only exacerbated the stressors.”

The study will also analyze nurse’s saliva for cortisol, melatonin and interleukin-6, markers associated with stress, sleep and inflammation, respectively. Phase two of the study is now underway with a new group of participants.

Harrington anticipates the second phase will be complete in the spring.

READ ALSO: B.C. nurses call for mandatory shutdown of all non-essential workplaces


Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email: nina.grossman@blackpress.ca. Follow us on Instagram.
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

HealthcareIsland HealthUniversity of Victoria

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Murder charge laid in February 2020 stabbing death of Smithers man

Michael Egenolf is charged with the second-degree murder of Brodie Cumiskey

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: B.C. seniors aged 90+ can start to sign up for vaccination on March 8

Long-term care residents protected by shots already given

A health care worker prepares to test a Coastal GasLink field worker for COVID-19. (Coastal GasLink photo)
Coastal GasLink begins COVID screening of pipeline workers

Construction is once again ramping up following Northern Health approval of COVID management plan

Deane Gorsline, is a former Burns Lake resident who has been diagnosed with ALS. (Submitted/Lakes District News)
ALS Action Canada group ropes in political leaders

Hopes to get more support and ultimately better treatment options for Canadians

Langley resident Carrie MacKay shared a video showing how stairs are a challenge after spending weeks in hospital battling COVID-19 (Special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Stairs a challenge for B.C. woman who chronicled COVID-19 battle

‘I can now walk for six (to) 10 minutes a day’

The south coast of B.C. as capture by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission. (European Space Agency)
VIDEO: Images of B.C.’s south coast from space released by European Space Agency

The satellite images focus on a variety of the region’s landmarks

A copy of the book “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” by Dr. Seuss, rests in a chair, Monday, March 1, 2021, in Walpole, Mass. Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the business that preserves and protects the author and illustrator’s legacy, announced on his birthday, Tuesday, March 2, 2021, that it would cease publication of several children’s titles including “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” and “If I Ran the Zoo,” because of insensitive and racist imagery. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
6 Dr. Seuss books won’t be published for racist images

Books affected include McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra!, Scrambled Eggs Super! and The Cat’s Quizzer

FILE – Oshawa Generals forward Anthony Cirelli, left, shoots and scores his team’s first goal against Kelowna Rockets goalie Jackson Whistle during second period action at the Memorial Cup final in Quebec City on Sunday, May 31, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
B.C. government approves plan in principle to allow WHL to resume in the province

League includes Kamloops Blazers, Kelowna Rockets, Prince George Cougars, Vancouver Giants, Victoria Royals

The fundraising effort to purchase 40 hectares west of Cottonwood Lake announced its success this week. Photo: Submitted
Nelson society raises $400K to save regional park from logging project

The Nelson community group has raised $400,000 to purchase 40 hectares of forest

AstraZeneca’s vaccine ready for use at the vaccination centre in Apolda, Germany, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michael Reichel/dpa via AP
National panel advises against using Oxford-AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine on seniors

NACI panel said vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are preferred for seniors ‘due to suggested superior efficacy’

A public health order has extended the types of health care professionals who can give the COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo courtesy of CHI Franciscan)
‘It’s great that midwives are included’ in rollout of B.C.’s COVID vaccine plan, says college

The order will help the province staff the mass vaccination clinics planned for April

Shipping containers are seen at the Fairview Cove Container Terminal in Halifax on Friday, Aug. 25, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Canadian economy contracted 5.4 per cent in 2020, worst year on record

Drop was largely due to shutdowns in the spring as COVID began to spread

Most Read