There’s nothing better than a good night’s sleep… But what about a good day’s sleep? No matter when you get it, good sleep is essential when it comes to your overall health and wellness, and is the key to not only feeling your best, but doing your best — no matter when you’re scheduled to do it.
That being said, shift work and night work are often accompanied by less sleep, chronic sleepiness and even sleep deprivation — and, in turn, a whole lot worse. As a night shift nurse, it’s important to understand and utilize sleep-improving initiatives if you want to increase your sleep time and quality (and trust us — you do!). Initiatives in this area don’t have to be complex, either. In fact, as some would say, they’re so simple you could do them in your sleep!
Understanding Your Circadian Rhythm
Your circadian rhythm is your inherent internal clock that controls your body’s wake-sleep cycle. The length of an individual’s circadian rhythm is typically about 24 hours, but that’s not to say that anything different is odd. There are a lot of factors that can disrupt your natural circadian rhythm, and one of the biggest is working night shifts. Given a proper adjustment period, though, circadian cycles can and will realign and adjust to regular night shifts. So be patient and persistent! There WILL come an evening that you wake up feeling better, rested and ready to slip into your best scrubs to take on the night shift — and it will become the norm.
Giving Your Body Time to Get Used to a New Rhythm
During your adjustment period, it’s important to stick to your new sleep schedule — even on weekends! It’s easy when the exhaustion consumes you to think that the process isn’t working, but sleeping and waking at the same times every day will allow your circadian rhythm to reset and to be recalibrated. Once you’ve adjusted to the night shift, expect your body to begin naturally preparing for sleep or rest when you get off work — and know how to take advantage of that.
Once Your Body Is Feeling the Rhythm
- Make Sure You’re Going to Bed Fed: As a nurse on the night shift, it’s important to remember that many facilities don’t offer 24-hour cafeterias, vending machines don’t tend to offer the most nutritional options and late-night fast-food restaurants aren’t generally much better. So consider prepping and packing a nutritious lunch at home, as well as bringing a variety of snack options to tide you over. Not only will this help you maintain your health and well-being, but it will allow you to go lie down if you’re tired when you get home instead of fighting with your stomach.
- Make Your Body WANT to Lie and Rest: If you’re someone who has a hard time making yourself lie down when you should — make your body want it more! Simple exercise, even just some stretching, has been shown to improve your sleep. So while it may feel counterintuitive, a little exercise can lead to a lot more rest! Using the right form and level of physical activity, such as something like light yoga, this initiative (and maybe even eventually routine) can even be relaxing.
- Don’t Leave a Bunch to Do for When You Wake Up: Not only will waking up extra early to get these things done cut into your sleep time, but it may even keep you from falling or staying asleep. Clear your mind and your schedule so that they don’t interfere with your sleep time through simple initiatives like showering before you sleep if your wake-up shower is cutting into the best part of your rest, or packing up your medical bag for your next night shift as part of your routine before leaving work or going to bed.
- Create a Bedtime Routine: As you begin creating a conscious bedtime routine and forming subconscious habits, your brain will quickly begin recognizing and reacting to these cues in the appropriate way. Not only will this help you to solidify your sleep schedule, but a good bedtime routine can be beneficial when it comes to reducing restlessness that tends to lead to full-blown insomnia. So consider avoiding snacks and drinks before sleeping, doing something that relaxes you, embracing simple self-care tasks and keeping your environment as comfortable as possible during your wind-down time.
- Cut the Noise: Another important thing to note about your sleep is that you’ll progress through different stages of sleep, and that even the most subtle noises are capable of disrupting this process. Beyond a minor disruption, loud or uncommon noises can result in the body releasing an increased amount of adrenaline and not only disrupt the process, but keep you from restarting it for a bit. White noise and ambient noise are welcomed and often beneficial. Just try to avoid using the TV for this as most stations and streaming services tend to have unpredictably mixed audio, not to mention the bright blue light that your TV emits.
- Hit the Lights: Aside from turning off the TV, try to avoid leaving computer monitors and laptops on in your vicinity, and even consider covering up the bright LEDs on your alarm clock, satellite or router if the glow from them seeps into your sleeping space. Probably the most obvious and essential of all as a night shift nurse, though, is blackout curtains.
- DIY: If you suspect that you’re not getting proper sleep or not able to sleep because of any sort of sleep disorder, your doctor may recommend undergoing an overnight analysis that will normally focus on evaluating blood oxygen levels. Luckily for you as a nurse, you likely have an old and trusted or new and loved personal pulse oximeter of your own. So why not put it to good use?
Keep Sleeping to the Rhythm
The most important part of adjusting your sleep cycle and getting a better sleep as a nurse on the night shift is to maintain the schedule and best practices that you’ve developed through these initiatives.
If you’re finding that it’s not enough and you still want to sleep in every weekend and still feel tired every workday, though, remember that there’s nothing wrong with adding a nap to your routine!
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