The best way to catch up on sleep

Image: Sergey Skleznev | Veer

If you’ve worked a stretch of nights and have a day off, do you feel guilty if you sleep all night and then want to stay in bed to sleep even more? Does your mom call you and ask you why you’re still in bed? Does your partner ask you why you’re being so lazy?

Well, shed the guilt and turn your phone off so mom can’t bother you, and tell your partner to go find something to do, because lolling about in bed to get some extra sleep IS good for you after all. According to a study published in the August 2010 issue of the journal Sleep, this extra sleep is called “recovery sleep” and it’s a good thing, as Martha Stewart might say. Go straight to our tips, or read on for a more in depth look at sleep itself!

Let’s step back a bit and look at sleep itself. We all know that for a healthy body, most humans need at least seven hours of quality sleep per night. While some people look at sleep as a luxury to be indulged only on vacations, if at all, it’s not. It’s a necessity and one that we can’t do without for very long. Yet many of us think we can, and many of us try. After all, how many nurses talk about how little sleep they’re getting? To some, it’s almost like a badge of honor to be the nurse on shift who had the least amount of sleep. But it’s a pipe dream to think that we can continue on for long periods with little sleep. Sleep is needed to restore us physically, psychologically and emotionally. Come to think of it, isn’t sleep deprivation used as a form of torture?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, almost 30 percent of adults in the United States say they sleep less than seven hours of sleep per night, and between 50 million and 70 million adults have chronic sleep problems. Want to bet many of them are nurses?

Working shifts does a number on your body, there’s no doubt about it. Although there are some natural night owls who love to work night shift and sleep well during the day, they’re the exception, not the rule. There are many of us who work nights reluctantly—either working straight nights or on rotations (which may even be worse—working a few nights and a few days, switching back and forth). But even if you do work only night shift, there’s still the issue of trying to sleep when your body wants to be up and being up when your body is insisting that you sleep.

So you, John Nurse, are working a stretch of five nights. You get by on a few hours of sleep during the day because you want to run errands during the day and get together with your friends in the evening. A few nights go by and you feel that you’re still running on full steam. By the fourth night, you feel like you’re lagging; by the fifth, you’re hitting the wall. Do you think it’s just the last two days of little sleep that pushed you over the edge? Not really. It’s the accumulation that results in a sleep debt.

Over the previous five days, let’s say you got about four hours of sleep each day. According to the study mentioned above, you’ll need 10 hours of sleep recovery for every day of four hours’ sleep to recover from that sleep debt.

Before you ask, “So what’s the problem then with working such odd hours if we can catch up?” you also have to know that this sleep recovery only works for occasional sleep deprivation, not chronic. And that’s where some nurses have problems. We have to nip the sleeping problems in the bud—before they begin. This means encouraging healthy sleep habits among the newer nurses and allowing them the freedom to sleep without feeling guilty.

Next, the tips to help you get a good sleep!

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Marijke Durning

Marijke is a professional writer who began her working career as a registered nurse over 25 years ago. After working in clinical areas ranging from rehab to intensive care, as a floor nurse to a supervisor, she found she could combine her extensive health knowledge with her love of writing. Although she has been published in a wide variety of publications for professionals and the general public, her passion is writing for the every day person to promote health literacy.

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4 Responses to The best way to catch up on sleep

  1. Hristina

    I like to work at night…but before my night shift I have list to do after that I also have list to do….I need a lot of time to do everything I want … :) And after some sleepless days and nights I just turn off .. …Most of that tips are great but…If I go to sleep after that I feel sorry fot hte things I was able to do for that time…and when I do sth instead of getting some health sleep I feel sorry for not having my nap…. :) We must learn to listen our bodies they know the best what they/we need :)

  2. You’re right! We must learn to listen to our bodies. The biggest problems occur when we forget that part.

  3. Jana

    You are absolutely correct. Sleep is a vital part of our well being. I have worked nights for the past 5 years, often having to work extra hours on spur of the moment. It makes things twice as hard when people don’t understand that you NEED sleep – and don’t bother to take into consideration that just because they slept all last night doesn’t mean that you did. I can’t tell you the times that I have ignored phone calls only to have the person that has called 15 times come bangin’ on my door at 10am instead of leaving a voicemail!

  4. Danni

    I have found that making sleep a priority is a must, the day of my first night shift being THE most important! That first day of sleep sets the tone…it can make or break the remaining 3 days. I always go to sleep earlier, to get in some extra sleep. On mornings when I am driving home, I drink a product I have found to be extremely helpful…..Neurosleep. After my commute, I’m ready to conk out! I have met quite a few nurses who like to have an alcoholic beverage before bed, to help them wind down. I read an article once detailing the dangers of this: first, it will eventually require more to do the same job-leading many to become inadvertent alcoholics, but secondly, it doesn’t offer a quality sleep. Rethink the drink!