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Keep Healthy Sleep Habits When You Are on the Night Shift

By University Alliance
Keep Healthy Sleep Habits When You Are on the Night Shift

Today’s professional nurses typically work long hours and are often required to work a variety of shifts. Irregular sleep patterns and insufficient sleep are common with nurses, and switching between day and night shifts is usually the cause.

Lack of Sleep Can Lead to Serious Issues

Sufficient sleep is beneficial to overall health. It can also help make you more productive at work. On the other hand, getting less than seven to eight hours of sleep, or interrupting your sleep on an ongoing basis can cause disturbances to your memory, critical thinking skills and reaction times, all of which are vital to your job as a nurse. Over the long term, lack of sleep can contribute to serious health problems, such as heart disease, depression, diabetes, obesity and cancer.

The healthcare industry takes sleep seriously. On countless occasions, lack of sleep has been linked to medical errors, needle sticks, improper drug dosage and incorrect use of medical equipment.

Here we’ll explore some of the causes of insufficient sleep, and provide practical tips for keeping healthy sleep habits.

Factors Contributing to Insufficient Sleep

Insufficient sleep can be caused by many factors, both behavior and external.

Behavioral factors can include:

  • Caffeine and other stimulants
  • Dietary choices
  • Lack of exercise

External causes can include:

  • Traffic or other noise
  • Temperature and light
  • Stress and family obligations
  • Work schedules

Working the Night Shift: Our bodies are programmed by an internal rhythm to rest when it’s dark, and to work when it’s light. Changing this timing forces a different rhythm that is difficult to adjust to, and can cause loss of sleep. In fact, researchers have found that people who work variable shifts get one and a half to two hours less sleep than those with normal work schedules.

10 Tips for Getting Better Sleep for Night-Shift Nurses

If you have trouble falling asleep or getting enough sleep, try these 10 tips. They have been shown to help make restful sleep possible.

  1. Make sleep a priority - Sleep is necessary to your overall good health. It’s not an option.
  2. Set a consistent schedule for sleep - Try to go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time.
  3. Avoid over stimulating your brain - Stay away from screens, whether it's a TV or computer. Cut back or eliminate caffeine from your diet. If you must have coffee, tea or chocolate, have it early in your shift.
  4. Don’t be afraid of the dark - Keep your bedroom as dark as possible. Use a lightweight sleeping mask to block all of the remaining light.
  5. Regulate the temperature - A cooler room promotes more restful sleep.
  6. Block out the noise - Earplugs can be very helpful. Turn off your phone or set it to silent. Let friends and family know when you’re on the night shift and may not respond for several hours. Or, instruct them not to call or text during times when you’re sleeping.
  7. Don’t try to stay awake - Often, nurses employ a strategy of staying awake for the 12 hours that precede a 12-hour night shift – which equals over 24 hours without sleep. This is not a good strategy.
  8. Nap when you can - If your shift is several hours away and you feel tired, lie down for a nap. Even 20 or 30 minutes of rest can help you feel refreshed. Avoid napping for more than two hours, which can make you groggy.
  9. Don’t be a stranger - When you’re on the night shift, it may be difficult to plan activities with friends and family. But it’s even more important to make the effort. Having a social life is important to your well being.
  10. Establish healthy eating habits - Before bedtime, try to avoid rich or spicy foods, or any foods that cause a reaction for you. Avoid alcohol for several hours, too, as it can interrupt your sleep.

For a Better Life, Get More Sleep

Staff nurses have responsibilities to their patients, team members and families. But a nurse's first responsibility is to themselves. If you’re working rotating shifts, you owe it to yourself to get sufficient, restful sleep. You’ll feel better, perform better and avoid on-the-job errors and serious health problems.

Category: Nursing