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

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
36 new cases of COVID-19, one death in Interior Health

The number of active cases in the region is at 366

Jesse Teindl (left) is grateful for support in his fundraiser for research of a genetic disease that prematurely claimed the lives of his father Tim (right) and uncle Craig Teindl. Photo: Submitted.
Kootenay community steps up for Skinny Genes fundraiser

Fundraiser auction for rare genetic disease raises more than $10,000 for Skinny Genes Foundation

Traffic light at a Trail intersection makes for a quick turn signal.
Dangerous traffic light change, standard procedure

Pedestrians are reminded to wait for walk signal before proceeding on unexpected light change

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
43 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

368 cases in the region remain active

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the B.C. legislature press theatre to give a daily update on the COVID-19 pandemic, April 6, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. nears 300,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, essential workers next

564 new cases, four deaths, no new outbreaks Thursday

The B.C. Supreme Court ruled Feb. 26 that the estate of deceased Sooke man and Hells Angels prospect Michael Widner is to be divided between his wife and his secret spouse. (Black Press Media file photo)
Estate of deceased Vancouver Island Hells Angels prospect to be divided between wife and secret spouse

Michael Widner’s 2017 death left a number of unanswered questions

This Dec. 2, 2020 photo provided by Johnson & Johnson shows vials of its Janssen subsidiary’s COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Johnson & Johnson via AP
Canada approves Johnson & Johnson’s 1-shot COVID-19 vaccine

It is the 4th vaccine approved in Canada and the 1st that requires just a single dose

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Canada’s hockey dad had battled Parkinson’s disease and other health issues

Kelowna General Hospital (File photo)
Second death reported in Kelowna General Hospital COVID-19 outbreak

A total of seven cases have been identified at the hospital: six patients and one staff

Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne speaks in the B.C. legislature, March 4, 2021. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals, NDP sing in harmony on local election reforms

Bill regulates paid canvassers, allows people in condo buildings

(National Emergency Management Agency)
No tsunami risk to B.C. from powerful New Zealand earthquake: officials

An 8.1 magnitude earthquake shook the north of New Zealand Thursday morning

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
Pandemic stress, isolation key factors as to why Canadians turned to cannabis, alcohol

Study found that isolation played key role in Canadians’ substance use

Most Read