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

Alexander Ericksons award-winning piece, The Provider, on display at the Kitimat Museum and Archives (Photo Frieda Design School)
Kitimat Museum and Archives host Freda Diesing school art exhibition

Local Kitimat art exhibition from students of the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art

Security has been stepped up at both Kitimat General Hospital in Kitimat, pictured here, and at the Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace. (File photo)
Stillbirth reaction leads to more hospital security

Staff, physicians facing threats and harassment

Workers at Kitimat General Hospital were presented with a large variety of food packages in appreciation of the last year of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. The donations came via local Epicurean representative Kerri Weightman who collected money for the purchases. (Jacob Lubberts photo)
Hospital workers receive food donation

Workers at Kitimat General Hospital were presented with a large variety of… Continue reading

(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

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

Victoria man Brett Andersen is asking for people’s help to secure him one of eight free tickets to the moon. (Screenshot/@brettandersen Instagram)
Victoria man wants your help securing a free ticket to the moon

Japanese billionaire offering eight people a trip to the moon

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Donald Alan Sweet was once an all star CFL kicker who played for the Montreal Alouettes and Montreal Concordes over a 13-year career. Photo courtesy of Mission RCMP.
Ex-B.C. teacher who was CFL kicker charged with assault, sexual crimes against former students

Donald Sweet taught in Mission School District for 10 years, investigators seek further witnesses

During a press event on March 6, Const. Alex Berube, media relations officer for the West Shore RCMP, addressed a deadly shooting that occurred in Metchosin the night before. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
VIDEO: One man shot dead on Vancouver Island in ‘targeted incident’

Highway 14 reopens following multi-hour closure for investigation

Personal protective equipment is seen in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
$16.9 million invested to improve worker safety, strengthen B.C.’s food supply chain

Money to be used for social distancing, personal protective equipment, cleaning, and air circulation

More than ever before, as pandemic conditions persist, the threat of data breaches and cyberattacks continues to grow, according to SFU professor Michael Parent. (Pixabay photo)
SFU expert unveils 5 ways the COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed cybersecurity

Recognizing these changes is the first in a series of steps to mitigate them once the pandemic ends, and before the next: Michael Parent

Most Read