Is consistent sleep really all that important? I worked as a night shift RN for six years! This great article written by Jessica from ViveHealth.com highlights many of the good habits that we should try to incorporate into our lives if we are working the night shift.
Good Sleeping Habits for the Night Shift RN
Getting enough sleep plays a vital role not just in keeping you healthy, but in your performance and stamina as a night shift RN. Truthfully, working a night shift is possibly one of the most unnatural things you can do, as evolution has crafted humans’ internal clocks to wake with the sun and go to bed when it sets.
Reversing that biological cue and instead going to sleep with the sun and waking when it sets has been shown to bare numerous consequences on the body. It’s critically important night shift nurses take heed with these healthy sleep habits and reminders:
Stick to a Schedule
All nurses know that spontaneity and surprises on the job require quick thinking and adaptability - that’s what makes many nurses greater thinkers on their feet. When it comes to forming good sleep habits however, constant time changes and schedule fluctuations can actually damage your ability to execute your nursing duties successfully.
Stick to a schedule for going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day. By sticking to a sleep routine, you provide more structure to your day and get your body in a healthy rhythm to support your night shift job.
Limiting stimulants like coffee and tea is an obvious choice for prioritizing regular quality sleep, however, timing your caffeine intake is just as important. If your sleep schedule starts as soon as you get home from your night shift, then keeping caffeine intake to a minimum and drinking it only at the beginning of your shift is a must. Loading up on caffeine prior to your nursing shift may also cause trouble as you can find yourself crashing with fatigue halfway through your night.
Avoid Blue Light
The blue waves of the light spectrum permeate your environment - they beam off your alarm clock, oven, and coffee maker, not to mention all your digital devices including laptops, smartphones, and tablets. What researchers have found is that blue light waves actually suppress melatonin production in the brain - the hormone that cues the body to fall asleep. When you spend hours at a computer or staring at your phone playing games or reading, your brain is receiving a message to “stay awake, stay awake!”. Avoid blue light for up to 2 or 3 hours prior to going to sleep, and use “Night Shift” settings on your smartphone to emit warmer light waves.
Reducing stress and anxiety can go a long way to helping you find better more restful sleep. For many night shift RN’s, sacrificing late dinners and dates with friends can take an emotional toll and lead to social isolation and job resentment. Make a point to prioritize staying social during the day before you sleep or go to work - grab lunch with a friend or your spouse, attend a yoga class together, or Skype call your mom or dad, for example.
Sleep in the Dark
The natural ebb and flow of your circadian rhythm that is synced to the rising and setting of the sun requires a reset for night shift nurses who get their sleep during the day. Sleeping in the dark stimulates natural cues for the body to rest so close shades and blinds to block out sunlight, and even consider sleeping with a weighted sleeping mask to avoid even the smallest peeps of light from reaching your eyes.
Keep it Cool
Did you know that part of your body’s natural cycle that gears it up for sleep is to cool down? Enhance this natural functioning by keeping yourself cool as well. Limit the thickness and weight of the pajamas you wear to bed, and avoid sleeping under layers of covers. Keep your environmental temperature between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit, and even turn on a fan if it helps. Not only will this help you fall asleep faster, but it will ensure better quality sleep as well.
Keep Naps Short
When someone says they’ve taken a 2 hour nap, that’s not a nap - that qualifies as just falling asleep for 2 hours. Naps should be kept to 40 minutes or less, and in fact, a 2016 study revealed that long naps and daytime sleepiness have been linked to increased risk for metabolic syndrome.
Naps exceeding an hour have additionally been associated with increased risk of Type II diabetes as well as cardiovascular disease. If you are finding yourself yearning for some shut-eye prior to a shift, a power nap may do you good as long as you set an alarm and wake up in less than an hour!
Improve Your Sleeping Surface
Crashing on the couch as you fall asleep watching Netflix is not the best way to get your body the rest and repair it needs, especially after a long night shift. Your mattress and pillow play an important role in how well your spine, neck, and head are supported to give you a quality night’s rest.
Firm, comfortable mattresses should support the natural curvature of your spine, while your pillow(s) should provide a cushioned but supportive surface for your head to lie flat without angling your neck up or down. If you suffer from back or neck pain, specialty pillows can help -read more here.
Practice Healthy Habits
Keeping up with healthy habits like eating right, exercising, and limiting alcohol consumption may seem harder and harder as a night shift nurse, as much of your day is spent sleeping and then possibly tending to another job or your own family. Prioritizing routine exercise (at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity fitness per day) helps expend energy to aid sleeping, as does eating a balanced diet of fruits, veggies, lean meats, whole grains, and healthy fats.
Jessica Hegg is the content manager at ViveHealth.com. Avid gym-rat and nutrition enthusiast, she’s interested in all things related to staying active and living healthy lifestyle. Through her writing she works to share valuable information aimed at overcoming obstacles and improving the quality of life for others.