Consistent, high quality sleep is vital to improving and maintaining your mental clarity, mood and health. Sleeping helps us fight infections, boost our metabolism and lowers our risk of developing illnesses such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
One in 9 employees are night workers, and getting to sleep when working against your body clock can be a difficult task. For both male and female workers, health and social care is in the top 5 most common occupations to work night shifts.
Waking in the afternoon and working 12 hour shifts as a nurse offers unique challenges. For nurses, it can be harder to maintain a consistent sleep schedule and achieve restful and good quality sleep.
Whether you solely work night shifts or just on occasion, we’ve put together 11 tips to help you not only get to sleep faster, but also to get better quality sleep:
1. Avoid caffeine
A lot of us look to a hot cup of coffee in the morning to get us going and feel alert for the day ahead. However, too much caffeine during your wakeful hours can be detrimental when it comes to sleeping.
It’s important to note that caffeine isn’t only found in your cup of coffee. Chocolate, energy drinks, and even tea can make it difficult for you to fall asleep when you return home from a night shift.
For a more detailed list of food and drink containing the stimulant caffeine, click here.
Caffeine inhibits your body’s ability to feel sleepy, meaning you stay awake and alert for longer.
So how do you survive nursing night shifts without your caffeine fix? Limiting your caffeine intake rather than eliminating it altogether is the best way forward. Avoiding food and drink containing caffeine at least 4 hours before your bedtime means you can get the best chance of a restful and deep sleep.
2. Eliminate light from your bedroom
Have you ever left a night shift tired and ready for a good rest, only to find that as soon as you’re ready to sleep you’re wide awake?
This can be put down to the exposure of natural ‘blue light’ from the daylight. Blue light found in natural sunlight is part of the process that regulates your body’s sleep-wake cycle (also known as your circadian rhythm).
The best way to tackle this problem in your sleeping environment is by using blackout curtains or blinds that can block or dramatically reduce the light coming into your bedroom.
3. Get lots of light during your working hours
Exposing yourself to as much light as possible on your night shift will help your body with its natural circadian rhythm.
Avoid turning off lights in the office or turning the brightness down on your devices during your night shift. By exposing yourself to as much light as possible during your night shift, you trick your body into the natural day-night light cycle. By the time you’re wrapping up your shift, you will feel naturally tired and ready to sleep.
Use bright lights during your shift or invest in a light therapy box. Light boxes are specifically designed to emit light that mimics the sun and can help your body and brain feel more awake during your night shift.
4. Minimise light exposure before bed
As you know, light has a massive impact on our bodies and brain and its important to keep this in mind whilst travelling home from your night shift.
You can do this by wearing dark sunglasses or special blue light blocking glasses whilst you make your way home and limiting your exposure to your electronic devices. Most phones and handheld devices now have a built in ‘night time mode’ which can also help limit your blue light exposure.
5. Leave your work at work
Working as a nurse can be a stressful job, and the feelings associated with stress (such as low mood and anxiety) can be worsened by poor sleep. Learning how to leave your work day (or night!) behind when you’re off the clock is a vital skill to learn as a nurse.
High stress levels can seriously disrupt your sleep and affect your mental health.
Managing your work stress and finding the right balance will not only help you mentally, but will also lead to a deeper, better quality sleep.
If you want tips on combating work stress and improving stress management, click here.
6. Exercise daily, but not before bed
Finding the time to exercise can be hard, especially when you’re a nurse. However, exercising regularly has been proven to lead to a more restful and deeper sleep.
Exercising regularly can be easier than you think to fit into your busy schedule. Here are a few suggestions:
Getting off the bus or parking a few roads down to increase your step count
It’s important to note that exercising within three hours of your bedtime can actually disrupt your ability to fall asleep - as your body increases production of adrenaline.
7. Don’t smoke for a few hours before bed
Nicotine doesn’t get as much attention as caffeine when it comes to getting better sleep.
Like caffeine, nicotine is a stimulant and is strongly linked to problems of insomnia due to the disruption it causes of our basic sleep structure - not to mention it increases your risk of snoring.
Research suggests that smokers not only get less sleep but also a less restful sleep.
You should avoid smoking within 3 hours of bedtime if you can.
8. Have a pre-sleep routine
Spending just an hour a day to unwind after a long shift can help calm your mind and get you ready for a restful sleep.
By repeating a regular pattern, you are training your body and mind to realise that it is time to go to sleep. You need to ensure it is a quiet, relaxed and enjoyable time for yourself, so take a deep breathe and switch off your electronic devices!
For some inspiration to get a bedtime routine together, click here.
9. Turn off your phone
A poor quality sleep can be just as bad as having none at all. It’s important to make sure you keep your sleeping environment solely for sleeping - so no scrolling through Facebook in bed!
Looking at a bright light in the dark can cause eye strains, headaches and make it much harder for you to fall asleep. Interrupted sleep leads to a phenomenon called ‘sleep debt’ - which is the culmination of missed sleep hours leading to mental and physical fatigue.
Put your phone on to do-not-disturb, or turn it off completely and put it away from where you sleep.
10. Deep breathing makes your body relax
Deep breathing can serve two purposes, calming the central nervous system and acting as meditation to quiet the mind.
You can practise deep breathing whilst lying down in bed. Don’t get up during or afterwards or else you’ll stimulate your body again.
Here is how to practise the 4-7-8 breathing exercise to get you started.
11. Avoid screens
The bright light emitted by the screens of our mobiles, computers, tablets and televisions suppress the production of melatonin, altering our body’s biological clock.
Melatonin is our body’s way of controlling our sleeping and waking cycle. A slower production of melatonin makes it harder for you to fall and stay asleep.
To give yourself the chance of restful, easy sleep, you should give yourself at least 30 minutes of gadget free time before you try to sleep.
As a nurse, working the night shift can be an inevitable part of your work life. However, if you find that working night shifts is detrimental to your health, there’s a solution. Becoming self-employed means you choose when and where you work, and can lead to higher career satisfaction and a better balanced life.
Become a self-employed nurse and choose when and where you work. Make an account today and become your own boss. Join the conversation and stay updated with us on Twitter, Instagram and like us on Facebook.