How do I get enough sleep in nursing school?
Q: Dear Sean, could you please write a little more about your nursing school journey? Any encouraging words of advice would be greatly appreciated.
A: For me, one of the hardest things to accept was the amount of sleep I did not get during nursing school. The amount and quality of sleep you get will be severely diminished during your time as a nursing student.
Being the perpetual student I am, I can tell you that in order to survive as a student nurse, you will lose sleep. Period. I’m talking survival here. Sleep is inversely related to all things nursing school. The more you have to do, the more that’s asked of you and the better you want to do will reduce the amount of sleep you actually get.
It’s ultimately about sacrifice. How much are you willing to sacrifice to accomplish your goal? How much sleep do you really need? We all want more sleep, but during nursing school, you truly find out how much your body needs in order to function properly. You’d be surprised to learn just how low that number is.
You can’t just show up for class. You can’t just show up for clinicals. There is a good bit of preparation that goes into both. Do you sleep? Or do you stay up preparing? Anything worthwhile requires a great deal of sacrifice, and sleep is one of the many things you will have to sacrifice in nursing school.
Don’t get me wrong, we all figure out the hard way that we have to sleep eventually. Our brains eventually just lock up and our bodies will shut down. People start looking a little blurry and almost everyone’s voice will sound like the adults from the Peanuts cartoon. At that point, you need to go sleep before you get hurt. Trust me, I’m speaking from experience.
Here are my suggestions on getting sleep as a nursing student:
- I would highly suggest scheduling sleep just like you schedule everything else. It’s the only way to ensure proper rest.
- A little sleep is better than no sleep. Power naps come in handy. Use them. You’d be surprised what a 10-minute nap will do for the body and the mind.
- Stay away from uppers (coffee) and downers (sleep aides) late at night. I would highly recommend using either only as a last resort.
- Stay ahead of the curve. Do not get behind in your studies to the point where you need to pull all-nighters just to get by. Occasional all-nighters are understandable, just don’t make them a habit. You retain nothing you cram.
- Always carry your earbuds, headphones, music, sunglasses and a watch wherever you go. Use these items to facilitate a nice power nap whenever you find time. I’ve lost count of how many times I slept in my car.
There has to be a fine balance between sacrifice and your health. Don’t wear yourself down to the point you compromise your well-being, but remember that your definition of the word “rested” will change when you enter nursing school.
Best of luck!
Sean Dent is a second-degree nurse who has worked in telemetry, orthopedics, surgical services, oncology and at times as a travel nurse. He is a CCRN certified critical care nurse where he's worked in cardiac, surgical as well as trauma intensive care nursing.
After five years practicing as an RN, Sean pursued and attained his Masters of Science in Nursing. Sean currently practices as a Board Certified Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP-BC) in a Shock Trauma urban teaching hospital.
He has been in healthcare for almost 20 years. He originally received a bachelor's degree in Exercise and Sport Science where he worked as a Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC).
By Sean Dent