Four Tips for Nurses Short on Zzzz’s

tired nurse

Nurses try to skinny by with an average of only 6.8 hours of sleep on their workdays, say sleep experts, though our bodies require an average of seven to nine hours of quality sleep. Can you say sleep deficiency?

You know you need sufficient sleep to perform well and protect yourself from drowsiness-based disasters. But your life is jam-packed with work and family, and it’s hard to slow down and rest, let alone sleep. Only you have to, for the sake of your own health and safety, if nothing else. One common risk factor: 30 percent of shift workers report nodding off at the wheel on the way to or from the job.

Sleep experts say nurses must practice good “sleep hygiene,” in order to fall and stay asleep, then wake up feeling refreshed. Here we focus on the top four steps to sleepy-time:

1. Establish a shut-eye routine…

Your body has an internal clock that tells it when it’s time to sleep or wake, known as a circadian sleep-wake rhythm. Help that clock to operate efficiently by setting up relaxing routines and then sticking to them. Even on your days off, if at all possible. For example, quiet down two hours before bedtime: Take a warm bath or do gentle yoga stretches, and listen to soft instrumental music. Bright lights tell our internal clock “rise and shine!” so dim electric bulbs, or better yet, light some candles in the evening. Turn off the computer monitor or other video screens, which put out too much stimulating brightness.

2. Interior decoration for sleep…

No kidding – good bedroom design and furnishings can make or break your slumber. (Remember the story of the Princess and the Pea?) Be sure you have a comfy, supportive mattress that’s less than10 years old. (That's the usual lifespan.) Keep the room restful or romantic – so no TV, computers, or paperwork, say. Be sure the window coverings block out all light. Try heavy, sound-absorbing drapes or blackout shades. Cover up or remove illuminated electronics, such as a digital clock radio. Don’t turn on an overhead light if you get up at night. Instead, flick on a nightlight or a tiny flashlight. Or, wear an eye shade, and while you’re at it – earplugs, especially if you share a bed with a snorer. Experiment with temperature; what brings on sleep varies from person to person.

3. Eat and exercise for health and sleep…

What you do during your waking hours determines if you’ll enjoy restful sleeping hours. You’ve heard it time and again – eating healthful foods and getting a move on, is good for you in so many ways. Sleep is another one. Keep track of what foods and drinks make you doze off and which ones keep you alert. Caffeine, for instance, is a stimulant that can be heaven-sent or hellacious, depending on how you manage it. Ditto for carb-heavy dishes or fatty foods. Generally, cut off caffeine 6 to 8 hours before bedtime. The cut off time for alcoholic beverages is 5 hours. Exercise when you can, whether as part of your day-to-day activities or while engaged in a sports activity. Quitting time is 2 hours before bedtime, though, if you’re doing anything vigorous.

4. Be a slow and careful shift-changer...

One of the most disastrous things a nurse can do when changing schedules is to stay up for 24 hours on the first night. Here's a much better approach to reorienting your sleep-wake rhythm and avoiding the dangers of operating on little or no sleep. Three or four days before a shift change, begin to transition over to your new sleep schedule. Postpone the time you hit the sack, and when you get out of bed, by an hour or two compared to the previous day. Rinse and repeat. That way your body clock will slowly – and gently – reset, and you'll be rested and alert when starting a new shift.


Jebra Turner is a health reporter and former H.R. director for an ergonomics-focused firm, where she oversaw workplace health and safety training programs for staff and clients. She lives in Portland, Oregon, but you can visit her at www.jebra.com.

2 comments

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