From March 11 to 17, 2018, the National Sleep Foundation is celebrating Sleep Awareness Week, highlighting how good sleep habits help individuals perform their best. Yet, at South University--where over 65% of our students are in nursing and other health professions--we see firsthand how getting quality sleep is particularly difficult for many healthcare professionals. In this field, professionals regularly work nights and long, demanding shifts that make getting a normal night’s sleep challenging, even throwing off the body’s natural rhythms.
As a healthcare professional, you provide essential services to patients who count on you to be alert and at your best. Fatigue is a serious issue in healthcare and can lead to a decline in your own health and an increased risk of errors in your patient care work. So what can you do when you’re working odd or long hours and find yourself struggling to sleep? Below are tips that can help you sleep better, so that you’ll be healthy and ready for the day ahead.
1. Create a wind down ritual and sleep schedule.
Begin to relax at least an hour before going to sleep, and keep a consistent sleep and wake schedule, even when you’re not working. During that hour, avoid your tv or phone as the bright light can stimulate your brain. If you want to read, choose something relaxing that you’ll be able to set aside at bedtime.
A pre-bedtime routine can also be beneficial. Ease any tension with a warm bath or shower, and treat yourself to soothing lavender scents or calming essential oils. Then, clean your face, brush your teeth, and play relaxing music or white noise to signal to your brain that it’s time for sleep. If you’re often anxious at bedtime, keep a notepad nearby where you can jot down thoughts and reminders and consider learning a relaxation technique to help you fall asleep.
2. Improve your sleeping environment.
For starters, use your bedroom for sleeping only, keeping it clean of clutter and anything that might stress you out. You should also minimize light and noise. Light tells your brain to wake up; darkness does the opposite. Invest in room darkening curtains, cover illuminated clocks, and consider an eye mask.
Set your phone to alarm-only mode, leaving it upside down to damper any light it emits. If you worry about waking up on time, set multiple alarms to ease your concerns. If you live on a noisy street, use ear plugs if you can still hear your alarm, or try a white noise machine or a sleep sound smartphone app. Finally, lower your thermostat before bedtime; the best temperature for sleeping is around 65 degrees.
3. Ask others to respect your schedule.
Get your friends and family on board with the importance of your sleep. If you have children, explain why you sleep when you do and ask that they only disturb you in an emergency. Request that your housemates avoid loud noisy activities or use headphones while you’re sleeping, and place a Do Not Disturb sign on your door to avoid being wakened by the doorbell.
4. Follow a healthy diet & exercise routine during waking hours.
Regular exercise can lower your stress levels and improve your sleep, so aim for at least 20 minutes of daily aerobic exercise, ideally before your shift. Working out within a few hours of your bedtime can lead to trouble falling asleep. Don’t indulge on a huge meal before sleeping, but also avoid an empty stomach. Either one could wake you up in the middle of your sleep cycle. Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol can also all disrupt your sleep, so avoid these items in the hours before you sleep. (See more of our tips for staying healthy here.)
Are you working in nursing or another healthcare profession? How do you balance your schedule so that you get the sleep you need? Join the conversation and share your advice with the South University community on Facebook.