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

An officer collects forensic evidence from a police SUV following the July 18, 2015 incident that ended in the police-shooting death of Hudson Brooks in South Surrey. (File photo)
Experts discuss toxicology, use-of-force at inquest into fatal 2015 police shooting in South Surrey

Proceedings could lead to recommendations for preventing similar deaths

Longtime Earl Marriott Secondary rugby coach Adam Roberts said he’s concerned that young athletes are losing motivation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has cancelled high-school sports seasons since last spring. (Janice Croze photo)
COVID-19: Stress, lack of activity a consequence of pandemic

‘There’s nothing really driving’ students right now, says South Surrey rugby coach

Bob Jadis, along with a team of painters and an etch artist, are selling firefly lanterns with 100 per cent of the funds allocated to the Sources South Surrey White Rock Food Bank. (Contributed photo)
Lanterns flying off the shelves as White Rock fundraiser gains momentum

Decorated bottles are on sale for $50, with all of the money donated to the food bank

A proposed multi-family, multi-building development in east White Rock was the subject of a public hearing Monday evening. (City of White Rock image)
Pros and cons of White Rock housing development debated at virtual public hearing

Affordable housing need, traffic concerns among reasons cited for and against Beachway project

A reminder to students at Surrey’s Strawberry Hill Elementary to physically distance during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
7 Surrey schools reporting possible COVID-19 exposures; no variants reported overnight

INTERACTIVE TABLE: Search for schools, organize by exposure dates

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Dr. Bonnie Henry pauses for a moment as she gives her daily media briefing regarding COVID-19 for British Columbia in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
7 additional deaths and 542 new COVID-19 cases in B.C.

Provincial health officials reported 18 new COVID-19 cases linked to variants of concern

Some Canadians are finding butter harder than usual, resulting in an avalanche of social media controversy around #buttergate. (Brett Williams/The Observer)
#Buttergate: Concerns around hard butter hit small B.C. towns and beyond

Canadians find their butter was getting harder, blame palm oil in part one of this series

B.C. research reveals how pandemic has changed attitudes towards sex, health services

CDC survey shows that 35 per cent of people were worried about being judged

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon speaks in the B.C. legislature, describing work underway to make a small business and tourism aid package less restrictive, Dec. 10, 2020. (Hansard TV)
B.C. extends deadline for tourism, small business COVID-19 grants

Business owners expect months more of lost revenues

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Anti-pipeline protests continue in Greater Vancouver, with the latest happening Thursday, March 4 at a Trans Mountain construction site in Burnaby. (Facebook/Laurel Dykstra)
A dozen faith-based protestors blockade Burnaby Trans Mountain site in prayer

The group arrived early Thursday, planning to ‘block any further work’

Mid day at the Vancouver Port Intersection blockade on March 3, organized by the Braided Warriors. (Zoë Ducklow photo)
Anti-pipeline blockade at Vancouver intersection broken up by police

Demonstraters were demanding the release of a fellow anti-TMX protester

(Government of B.C.)
Backcountry skiers are dwarfed by the mountains as they make their way along a mountain ridge near McGillivray Pass Lodge located in the southern Chilcotin Mountains of British Columbia, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012. Avalanche Canada has issued a special warning to people who use the backcountry in the mountains of western Alberta and eastern British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Avalanche Canada special warning for mountains in western Alberta, eastern B.C.

Avalanche Canada also says everyone in a backcountry party needs essential rescue gear

Most Read