Many of us burn the candle at both ends, but restful sleep can improve mental clarity, boost mood and enhance general health.
Good-quality Zzzs can help us fight infection, maintain a stable metabolism and keep conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes at bay.
Under normal circumstances, our bodies react to natural daylight patterns, dusk and darkness, following a cycle called the circadian rhythm. Working against our body clocks is hard, which is why night shift workers find it extra difficult to get enough sleep.
According to a TUC study, healthcare workers are among the top five most likely people to work night shifts. If you regularly wake up in the afternoon and work a 12-hour nursing or caring shift, you might find it tough to get enough restorative sleep. With that in mind, we've put together ten helpful tips which could help you drift off quickly and sleep soundly.
1. Limit caffeine before bedtime
Need coffee to get going? You’re not alone. According to the British Coffee Association, UK latte lovers now drink about 98 million cups of coffee a day. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, muscles (including the heart) and systems that control blood pressure. As a result, we feel more awake.
Coffee isn't the only stimulant-containing substance out there: tea, energy drinks and even chocolate all contain caffeine. And while caffeine can help boost alertness, too much coffee can negatively affect sleep quality.
So, how do you survive overnight shifts without your coffee fix? The good news is that you don't have to eliminate caffeine – you just need to limit your intake. For a sound slumber, avoid caffeine-containing foods and drinks at least four hours before bedtime.
2. Use blackout curtains or blinds
Have you ever left a night shift feeling tired, only to find that you're wide awake as soon as you're ready to sleep? You can blame the blue light found in natural daylight for that annoying phenomenon.
Natural sunlight – specifically the blue light portion – helps to regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Using blackout curtains or blinds to block out (or dramatically reduce) daylight in your bedroom can make the Land of Nod much easier to find.
3. Maximise light at work
Light isn't always bad. In fact, exposing yourself to as much light as possible while you're at work can help fool your body into thinking it's daytime. So, turn the brightness up on device screens and keep the lights on in your office.
Light boxes can also work well. They're specifically designed to mimic the sun and wake up your brain, so they're a worthwhile investment if you have trouble sleeping between overnight shifts.
4. Minimise light before bed
Maximising light at work makes sense when you need to stay awake; minimising light on the way home (and before bed) can help you wind down and fall asleep.
If you commute by car, try wearing dark glasses or special blue light-blocking glasses while driving. Travel on the train or by bus? In that case, reduce screen brightness or switch devices to "night mode" to limit blue light exposure as much as possible.
5. Leave work at work
Healthcare jobs can be stressful, and high stress levels can disrupt sleep and impact mental health. Frustratingly, if you don't sleep well because you're worried, you might feel even lower and more anxious. So, what's the solution?
The key lies in leaving work at work, but that's easier said than done if you're an empathetic person in a caring profession. Still, it makes sense to practise disconnecting when you're off shift because doing so can help you manage stress and sleep more soundly.
6. Exercise every day
Regular exercise can help you get better, deeper sleep. But if you work in healthcare, finding time to exercise can be pretty tricky.
If you're always busy, try sneaking exercise into your schedule. Getting off the bus a couple of stops earlier, parking a bit further away from work and taking a walk at breaktime can all help you get a few extra steps in.
You could also:
- Join a fitness class
- Take the stairs instead of the lift
- Cycle to work instead of taking the bus
One crucial point: exercise can keep you awake because it boosts the body's production of adrenaline. So, try not to exercise within three hours of shuteye time.
7. Reduce nicotine intake
Nicotine doesn't get as much attention as caffeine when it comes to getting better sleep, but like caffeine, nicotine is a stimulant. It disrupts the circadian rhythm, masks tiredness and raises your risk of developing sleep apnea and other sleep-related health conditions. Not good.
According to research, smokers get less sleep and enjoy less restful sleep. If you can help it, stop smoking or vaping at least three hours before bedtime. If you want to quit altogether, NHS stop smoking services can help.
8. Find time to unwind
Devoting just one hour a day to "me time" can make it easier to unwind and get ready for a restful day's sleep. Reading a book, having a bath or speaking to a friend on the phone are all self-care activities.
Unwinding at the same time every day can help your body and mind recognise that it's time to calm down and go to sleep. So why not turn off your mobile, take a few deep breaths and just be for a little while?
9. Turn off your phone
Speaking of switching off your phone… In a nutshell, it's best to keep your sleeping environment as tech-free as possible. Scrolling through Facebook, TikTok or Twitter just before bedtime can make it much harder to drift off.
Blue light doesn't help you drift away, either (actually, it suppresses melatonin production) – and staring at a bright screen in the dark can cause eye strain and headaches. The less sleep you get, the more sleep debt you'll accumulate and the more mentally and physically tired you'll feel.
Try to put your smartphone away at least 30 minutes before sleep. If you find it hard to leave your phone alone, activate "do not disturb" mode and put it somewhere hard to reach.
10. Practise deep breathing
Deep breathing has an immediate and profound effect on the parasympathetic nervous system. When we breathe deeply, we tell our brains that everything's okay and that there's no need to be afraid or run away. It's basically a mind trick – and it works really well.
You can use the 4-7-8 exercise to practise deep breathing at bedtime. Simply breathe in for a count of four, hold for a count of seven, and then breathe out for a count of eight to complete the cycle. Repeat three more times to complete the exercise.
Hopefully these tips will help improve your sleep so that you feel more refreshed at work. If there are other ways you stay well-rested between shifts, let us know on social media. Goodnight!
Florence can help you find flexible shifts near you, take essential training courses and improve your work-life balance. Find out more and sign up today.
You might also be interested in:
- Top 6 self-care apps for nurses and carers
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- Misconceptions about working in care