sleep tips for night shift nurses

If you are a nurse on a night shift duty you will know how much strength it takes on your mental and physical health to stay awake and work at night. Nurses have the most difficult jobs in hospital. Doctors go as far as to say that nurses’ jobs are even more demanding than doctor’s work. They have to take care of the patient, assist doctors, think critically when needed, they give companionship to patients. Their job is an essential part of the hospital duty.

Nurses working on day shift have it hard but nurses working night shifts have it harder. Their whole schedule changes, their daily routine has to be altered. Their personal life becomes non-existent, they miss out on spending time with family and friends. 

Sleep deprivation becomes a serious issue for any night shift worker but for a nurse it is especially difficult. Nurses have to stay alert for any medical emergencies, their work demands full alertness. Their responsibilities are much more than a usual person.

Most nurses are women and they have responsibilities not only in hospital but at home as well. They might need to take care of their kids. Many times nurses have to help their kids to get ready for school when she gets home from work. Sleeping during the day time often become difficult due to outside distractions, all this puts an adverse effect on a nurse’s health.

Here are some tricks to get some sleep for a night shift nurse.

1. Directly go to bed after reaching home. 

Most women try to do chores after reaching home. Pending laundry, dishes, messy home etc are too difficult to leave. As much as you want to get it all done before you fall asleep it is better if you do it after you wake up. You might have experienced extremely tired during the drive back home. Ever wonder why that is? Your mind tells your body to relax, that your work is done, it’s a psychological effect. it is the time when your body is most likely to go into slumber. However, once you reach home and busy yourself in house work your body wakes up from that sleep state and you will difficult time falling asleep again. The best practice is to get a shower and go directly to bed. Showering before bed can help your muscles to relax, it also cleans your body of all dirt from whole night of work.

If you have kids, talk to husband about handling the morning duties. There is no need to become demanding or whiney, you can sit with your partner and have a proper talk. You should talk about your temporary schedule. The talk is very essential, if you retire to your room without explanation your partner might feel cheated. Your partner might expect you to get your kids ready if you skip your duties they may develop resentment against you if you fail to do so. The important thing in such a case is communication. 

Since hospitals don’t put nurses on night shift for a long period of time, it is only a matter of time before you will go back to your normal routine. 

2. Beware of caffeine intake

Many nurses and night shift workers in general take the help of caffeinated drinks to stay alert and feel energised. Drinking coffee early on your working hours is fine but if you are consuming more than one cup of coffee a day, it can have long lasting effects. Coffee is a great way to boost energy but it can be addicting. 

Drinking too much coffee can induce insomnia. You might have difficulty falling asleep after you come home and try to go to sleep. This will lead to you feeling tired the next day and subsequently drinking more coffee. Substitute coffee for chai tea or Macha tea, they have low caffeine and antioxidants. 

Similarly, lower the use of alcohol intake and give up smoking if you are a smoker. Stimulants can be very harmful if you start depending on them to feel relaxed or stay alert. Drinking heavily during the weekend can pretty much ruin the whole week. Don’t depend on addictive items, rather try to meditate and work on self control. Drink lots of water instead of sweetened drinks. People working on night shifts often often have a difficult time staying hydrated. Always carry a bottle of water and take small sips regularly. 

3. Prepare your room for sleeping in the day time

Do you know why human evolutionarily sleep at night? It has to do with the circadian rhythm. Human like most mammals are warm blooded animal and relax when the core body temperature is lowered. The human sleep-wake cycle is dependent on the environment around them. Night gives darkness, cool temperature and silence, all these factors are very necessary to fall asleep and stay asleep. 

Day time can bring lots of distractions, outside noise and brightness. If you sleep in a bright room your mind will tell your body ‘it’s day time don’t go to sleep’. To trick your brain into thinking it’s night, darken your room by putting on thick curtains or blinds. Put carpet in your room and wooden furniture on the walls, it helps to absorb sound from outside. If you are someone who has a hard time sleeping in silent room, bring a speaker and put on white noise like nature or rain sounds, it also helps in reducing distraction sounds like pets, tv and vehicles. Ask your family members not to disturb you when you are sleeping and put your phone on silent. Turn on the AC during hot weather, try to keep your room cold. Body falls asleep when the core body temperature falls one to two degrees below its usual temperature. This drop in temperature slows down your heart by few bpms and helps you to fall asleep. 

Put on blanks to feel comfortable. In REM sleep your body can’t regulate its body temperature, it is the reason why you need to have a blanket for added comfort. 

4. Address your sleep problems

Most Americans have sleep problems like sleep apnea or snoring. Sleep apnea is a condition in which you stop breathing for a few seconds while asleep. Weight and other issues can add to sleep apnea. 

These problems can range from normal to severe. It shouldn’t be ignored if you are not getting enough sleep. If your precious sleep time is get disrupted due to sleep apnea or snoring you need to do something about it. There are several snoring solution in the market. Try sleeping on your side to ease your airway. Try to lose weight, stop covering your face with blanket etc.

If the problem persists and you feel sleepy even after being in bed for six to seven straight hours in bed, see a sleep specialist. 

5. Do not look at screens before bed

Most people have a bad habit of surfing the internet or watching a movie before bed. You can do it once in a while but doing so regularly takes away a lot of your time you could use for sleeping. Nurses have long hours of work, many nurses have to commute long hours to reach home, they hardly get any time at home. It is important that you try to get as much sleep as possible and not waste time of mundane things. 

Not only that, looking at a blue screen is the leading cause of insomnia, they inhibits your brain cells from shutting off and relaxing. There is a small window when your body feels the most sleepy, if you skip that window it becomes very hard time to fall asleep again.Keep your cell phone and laptop far away from the bed, shut your tv before you go to bed.

6. Exercise to sleep better

It is amazing what the human body is capable of adapting to. You can condition your body to sleep in the day time, and stay awake at night. Your body is very much capable of adapting to the flipped routine given that you keep it healthy. Exercise regularly to keep the chemicals in your body to perform perfectly. Keep your heart healthy and mind stress free. Yoda and meditation can help you get rid of anxiety, get good sleep and focus on your work. 

Sleep deprivation can cause symptoms of irritability, anxiety and depression for night shift workers. Exercise releases dopamine in your system that helps to get rid of these mental health symptoms. 

7. Take a walk

Taking a 20-minute walk everyday in a park. Walking can help a lot in relaxing your body. Walking not only improves the overall health of your body, taking a walk barefoot in the grass and taking in fresh oxygen helps in blood circulation. It makes your heart strong and keep you healthy.

Try to go camping once in a while to experience nature and get relaxed. A relaxed mind is more likely to fall asleep than a mind full of anxious thoughts. 

8. Eat healthy food

Nurses working night shift have higher probability of getting stomach problems. Our bodies are not made to be awake at night, nor is your stomach used to digest food in the middle of the night. if you eat unhealthy it may turn out really bad. If you eat too much sweet and carbohydrates you will feel sleepy especially while working night shift. Eating too much oily food will give you heartburn and cause serious problems like stomach ulcers. 

Find the perfect balance between fibrous food and protein. Protein and fibre keep you feel satiated, and prevents for snacking on unhealthy items. Eat vegetables and fruits to get your vitamins and minerals. Try to avoid processed food. Processed food have preservatives that can interfere with sleep. You might not have the time to make food at home but you can find healthy substitute of restaurant or take-out food.

9. Get your health under check

People working in night shifts are more likely to develop health issues than others. Here are some of the problems:

  • Gastrointestinal problems- Since your body is trying to adjust to the new time table, your stomach is having a difficult time adjusting to your food habits. Night shift workers often have weird eating schedule that can cause gastrointestinal problems.
  • Deprives your body of Vitamin D
  • Breast cancer
  • Heart diseases
  • Diabetes
  • obesity

Get yourself checked up regularly to make sure you are in good health

10. Don’t change your shifts frequently

Your body needs time to adjust to a time table. Your body cycles get in sync with your lifestyle in an interval of 21 days. If you are changing your shifts too often it affects your body more than just being on the night shift. It can interrupt your sleep cycle and make you feel sleepy during working hours. 

What is the most difficult challenge for you as a night shift worker?