Eur J Pain. 2023 Jul 12. Online ahead of print.
Background: Pain empathy is essential for high-quality of care. The cognitive ability to identify and understand the pain in others remains underexplored in the context of hospital shift work. This study aimed to observe the early subliminal ability to detect pain in other faces and to investigate pain intensity evaluations during day and night shifts.
Methods: Twenty-one nurses (31 ± 7 years, 20 women) from cardio-paediatric intensive care participated in this study. Eighteen nurses completed all testing in the morning and evening hours, before and after the 12-hour day and night shift. In the first test, the nurses had to decide if facial stimuli presented subliminally showed pain or not. During the second test, they consciously determined the intensity of the painful faces on a numerical scale. Sleep, sleepiness and empathy were also measured.
Results: Recognition accuracy and pain sensitivity remained stable over time, only sensitivity increased following the work shift (F(1,15) = 7.10, p = 0.018). Intensity ratings remained stable. Sleepiness at the end of the night shift was negatively correlated with accuracy (ρ = -0.51, p = 0.018) and positively correlated with prior night shifts (ρ = -0.50, p = 0.022).
Conclusion: The judgement of facial pain expressions seems robust across shift types, only individual factors such as sleepiness interfere with pain recognition. Pain sensitivity may be enhanced during working hours.
Significance statement: Some professions need to know how to assess pain 24/7 and a lack of sleep can disrupt the cognitive processes necessary for this assessment. Night shifts provoke a bias in pain management, and sleep deprivation, a decrease in pain evaluation. By conducting a repeated measure study in the field that applied a different paradigm (subliminal recognition of facial cues) we add evidence to the understanding of pain recognition and the impact of sleep deprivation on the early processing of pain in others.
PMID: 37434490 DOI: 10.1002/ejp.2150