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Top 10 sleep tips for nurses

iStock | PeopleImages
iStock | PeopleImages

It’s a simple prescription really: You get up, go about your day or shift, go home, wind down and then go to sleep; repeat daily.

But if you’re one of the nearly 10 percent of Americans who report having chronic insomnia or one of more than 25 percent who have occasional trouble sleeping, getting that shut-eye is anything but easy.

These statistics are taken from the general population. Chances are the numbers are higher among nurses who work shift work.

In order to help you increase your chances of getting some quality sleep, which in turn will hopefully lower your stress levels (and help your heart!), Scrubs offers you 10 tips to help you get much-needed rest, whether it’s making sure your room is dark enough or ensuring you have a good mattress to do it.

1. Develop a good go-to-bed routine.

You know those bad habits you can’t get rid of? Like biting your fingernails or saying “you know” after every two words? Bad habits are hard to break, but good habits should then be easy to keep. But you have to develop the habits first. By establishing a steady bedtime routine, your body and your mind will start to expect you to go to bed and, eventually, fall asleep.

It may take a while to establish a routine that works for you, but the trick is to be consistent. Some examples are turning your television or computer off an hour before bed, reading a book, brushing your teeth and meditating before turning off your light.

2. Brush your teeth two hours before bed.

If you do your night prep two hours before bed, including brushing and flossing your teeth, you’ll be less likely to eat or drink anything within that period. Many people find it more difficult to get a good sleep if they eat or drink within two hours of lying down.

3. Exercise early in your day.
Whether your day is during the daylight or night hours, exercise early and not too close to bedtime. Your body needs time to wind down and relax before it can get ready for sleep. If you exercise too close to bedtime, you make it harder to do that.

4. Check your medications.
As a nurse, you know that not only do some medications help you sleep, but some keep you awake. If you take prescription medications, double check to see if one of the adverse effects is wakefulness. If so, you may want to speak with your doctor or pharmacist about adjusting the times you take them to work better with your sleep schedule, particularly if you are working rotations.

5. Use your bedroom only for sleeping and for sex.
In this day of being able to bring your life everywhere with you in the form of computers, netbooks and smart phones, it’s easy to forget that your bedroom should be your sanctuary. Having all the other parts of your life in there tells your body that the bedroom isn’t special. Keep your work and play out of the bedroom.

6. Make sure your room is ready for sleeping.
It may seem obvious that you need to darken your bedroom if you’re trying to sleep during the day, but if you’re having trouble sleeping at night, it could be that your room just isn’t dark enough. If you live in the city, street lights can shine a bit too brightly outside your bedroom window, or you may see the sweep of car headlights as they turn around your corner. Your best bet? Invest in blackout curtains and make it really seem like night in your room.

If you have a bright digital clock, consider covering it as well. Those things can throw off quite a bit of light in a dark room.

7. Don’t let your room get too warm.

This is a mistake many people make. They’re cold when they go to bed so they put up the heat in the room to compensate. The problem is, as you sleep, the room stays hot and this can actually wake you up. If your room is cool, you may want to consider a few other ways to be warmer aside from getting a thicker quilt. Try wearing socks to bed, warming up your bed with a heating pad or hot water bottle (make sure you turn off the heating pad or that it has an automatic “off” function), or invest in an electric blanket or heating underpad, which goes under your sheets. This way, you can be warm, but the ambient air stays cool.

8. Check your bedding.

Do you remember the story about the Princess and the Pea? If you’re having trouble staying asleep, you could be writing a sequel to the story: The Nurse and the Wrinkle.

Bedding linens are not cheap. Because they’re “just sheets,” we tend to spend as little as possible when buying them. But consider this: If you spend six to eight hours per night (or day) in bed, that’s 42 to 56 hours per week, 168 to 224 hours per month or 2,184 to 2,912 hours per year you’re on those sheets! Isn’t your sleep worth a few more pennies a week? Buy the best sheets that feel comfortable to you, which means going for the higher thread counts. In the winter, you may want to invest in flannel sheets. The point is to sleep on what’s comfortable for you, instead of waking up because you keep rubbing against a pull or a pill in the sheet.

While we’re on the subject of sheets, how old is your mattress? Mattresses aren’t meant to last forever, and our needs for soft versus firm change as do our bodies. Maybe you should take a look at what’s available or invest in a mattress top that will change the firmness without switching the whole thing. And finally, your pillow. Your pillow is an important part of your sleep system, too. Your pillow should comfortably support your neck, no matter what position you sleep in. But you may not have the right pillow for your body and your sleep habits.

9. Address bothersome bed partners.

Do you have a partner who snores? Does she toss and turn? Does he pull off all the covers? These are all things that can make sleep difficult. One solution for the covers is to have two quilts or blankets on the bed: one for him and one for her. Earplugs may help the snoring solution. Hogging the bed could even mean a partner needs to sleep on another bed or in another room. If your bed partner is a pet and his sleeping habits are waking you, it may be time to consider letting Fluffy or Fido sleep in another part of the house.

10. Don’t force it.
Sometimes, sleep just doesn’t come, no matter how much we need it. If you haven’t fallen asleep after 20 or 30 minutes, get up and out of bed. Leave the room and do something quiet, such as reading or listening to soft music. Don’t do anything stimulating like watching TV or checking email. Stay quiet and calm. After a while, try going back to bed again. The trick is for your body to associate the bed with sleep, not with wakefulness.

References: cdc.gov/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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2 Responses to Top 10 sleep tips for nurses

  1. Mary Notrica

    Sounds like good advice.

  2. musicfan_rn RN

    As a night nurse for many years, I know all about disturbed sleep habits. I work 7 on 7 off. On the off nights, I try to turn it around and become “normal” again. The best thing for me seems to be some of the OTC sleep formulas with melatonin etc. I avoid Benadryl because it has the opposite effect by aggravating my restless legs. When all else fails, I get up for awhile and do the milk and cookies routine while doing something relaxing in a low light setting — a little low-energy Tv or reading. If I still continue to toss and turn, I know I must just go ahead and get up because after awhile I just get mad with the bed which makes it worse.

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