Night-shift nurses and drowsy driving: A qualitative study

Alec Smith, Anthony D. McDonald, Farzan Sasangohar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Background: Drowsy driving following the night shift is persistent among nurses resulting in elevated rates of vehicle crashes and crash-related injuries and deaths. While considerable effort has been dedicated to the development of countermeasures, implementation of these countermeasures in nursing has lagged behind other shift work oriented industries. Developing effective countermeasures for drowsy driving in nurses requires a thorough characterization of nurse's perceptions of drowsy driving and potential mitigations. Objective: The objective of this research was to elicit night shift nurses’ perceptions of drowsy driving, countermeasures, and educational and technological interventions. Design: Perceptions were elicited through a semi-structured interview protocol. The protocol design was driven by previously identified research gaps. Questions focused on four topics: perceptions of drowsy driving, current practices and methods to mitigate drowsiness during the shift and commute, preferences and expectations for training on drowsiness management, and, preferences and expectations for technological mitigations. Setting: The data collection took place at a large urban hospital in Texas, USA. Participants: Thirty night-shift nurses were recruited with voluntary sampling. No nurses declined to participate after initially consenting. The participants were male and female nurses who currently worked a 12 hour night shift. The nurses had between 1 and more than 20 years of experience and worked in a variety of units. Method: The interview recordings were transcribed by the research team and entered into a qualitative data analysis software. Transcripts were analyzed by two independent coders with a grounded theory approach to identify common themes and subthemes across participants. Findings: Feelings of drowsiness typically manifested immediately following the shift or during the post work commute. Nurses responded to drowsiness by engaging in multiple ineffective countermeasures (e.g., listening to music) and effective countermeasures (e.g., naps) were used sparingly. Experiences and mitigation methods traversed through the nurses’ social network although they did not always alter behavior. Nurses were uncertain but enthusiastic about educational and technological interventions preferring practical training and auditory interactive alerts. Conclusions: The findings suggest a strong need for real time drowsiness interventions during or immediately prior to nurses’ post work commutes. Nurses’ enthusiasm for training and technology to prevent drowsy driving suggests high levels of readiness and acceptance for such interventions. Future work should focus on the development and implementation of practical training and technological interventions for drowsy driving in nurses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103600
Pages (from-to)103600
JournalInternational journal of nursing studies
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • Drowsy driving
  • Interview
  • Night shift work
  • Nurse fatigue
  • Technology
  • Training

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nursing(all)


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