Certainly you’re tired when you get off work. So why do you have trouble falling or staying asleep? “Often it’s the emotional and physical stress of your job that’s to blame,” says Ronald L. Kotler, MD, medical director of the Pennsylvania Hospital Sleep Disorders Center and co-author of 365 Ways to Get a Good Night’s Sleep. But, notes Kotler in the Winter 2013 issue of Scrubs magazine, there are also many other, more easily remedied things that can keep nurses awake.
Straining by day. Orthopedic- related aches and pains are a big cause of insomnia. Make sure you’re lifting properly, are in shape to do physical work and consider taking a pain reliever 30 minutes before lights out.
Going to bed to stay awake. You want your brain to make a Pavlovian association between your bed and sleep. That won’t happen if you pay your bills, work or watch TV in bed. Reserve the room for sleeping or sex.
Exercising too close to bedtime. Physical activity releases hormones and changes body temperature in ways that can make it more difficult to fall asleep. Plan your workout three to four hours before bedtime.
Bottling it up. If a patient dies or other stressful events happen at work, the residual effects can easily keep you up at night. Having someone to discuss job-related issues with can help ease insomnia-inducing anxiety.
Rotating shifts. Changing your bedtime frequently can disrupt your circadian rhythm and make it hard to fall asleep. If you can’t get the same shift regularly, remember these tactics for tricking your body into sleeping better.
- If you’re working the night shift, wear sunglasses as you drive home in the morning. The more light your eyes get, the more your brain thinks it’s time to stay up.
- Resist the urge to take naps on your days off; they may make it harder to fall asleep later and can make it more difficult to adapt to changing shifts.
Taking stimulants. This includes alcohol, caffeine and nicotine. Alcohol, while initially a sedative, has a stimulating effect that kicks in as your body starts to metabolize it—so you might wake up in the middle of the night. Caffeine is an obvious stimulant, but you might not be aware that its effects can last as long as 14 hours. That after-lunch cappuccino may keep you up later that night. Besides all its other detriments, nicotine is a stimulant, so smoking near bedtime can make it tough to drift off.
Checking email. Because computers, phones and TVs emit light, checking email, surfing the web or even watching your favorite late-night drama doesn’t ready your brain for sleep. Stick to low-light activities such as reading a book or taking a bath before bed. If you wake up in the middle of the night, stay away from your screens!
Looking at the clock. Whenever you’re trying to fall asleep, refrain from checking the time. Chances are it will only increase your anxiety, which in turn will make it even harder for you to doze off.
Letting light and noise intrude. As your body ages, it spends less time in deep sleep, more in lighter sleep stages. That means you’ll be more vulnerable to waking from disturbances that never used to bother you. Use blackout curtains, close your bedroom door and shut off the phone.
Eating too much too late. Go to bed on a full stomach and your body will be too busy digesting to wind down for a good night’s rest—plus you have the added risk of indigestion. If you’re going to eat a big meal, do so hours before bedtime.
Daryn Eller is a freelance writer based in Venice, Calif., who has written for Parents, Prevention and Ladies’ Home Journal.
By Daryn Eller