One of the greatest challenges every nurse faces is a lack of sleep. Working as a nurse, you often are asked to swing between day and night shifts, and you can almost guarantee your on-call will be a random night shift mixed into your string of 12-hour days. Even worse? Our own day-to-day experiences add fuel to the fire. When I worked in inpatient psychiatry, I would lie awake for up to three hours every night, unable to fall asleep with my mind racing about staff, patients and work issues.
Sleeping (or not sleeping) in this way makes your mind foggy, and you’re more likely to make mistakes on the job. Your mood could swing from irritable to exhausted to overwhelmed and back again in the span of an hour! Plus, illness can intensify with inadequate rest, leading to depression, weight gain and decreased immune function.
Simply put, without enough sleep, it may feel like your world is upside down! So, what do you do if your body clock is completely confused? Well, there are a couple of simple and practical things to try:
- Get on a schedule. I know this is sometimes impossible with shift work. But the more you can get onto a specific bedtime and wake-up schedule each day, the easier it will be for you to quickly drift off.
- Keep your bed just for sleeping. Don’t lie in bed while on the computer. Don’t watch TV and try to “fall asleep.” Read in a comfortable chair before bed, but not in your bed itself. You have to train your body to know that when you get into the bed, it’s time for rest. (I’ve heard people say that TV or radio helps them sleep; it might feel that way, but it’s not the restful, rejuvenating sleep you need because your subconscious is still tuned in and listening to the background noise.)
- Journal in the evening. I find it helpful to write out what I’m grateful for, what I got done each day and what I’ve got planned for the next day, so that when I lie down, that information isn’t inside my head and causing my mind to race. Getting it out on paper gets it out of your mind.
- Don’t eat or drink too close to bedtime. I’ve noticed that when I cut off my water intake at 6 p.m., I don’t get up those nights to use the bathroom. Same thing with food; if you eat too close to bedtime, it will cause issues like indigestion and strange dreams (not to mention your body might be awake because it has to work harder to digest all that food so close to bedtime!).
- Do some activity and movement each day. If you don’t do anything physical that gets your heart rate pumping during the day, your body isn’t really going to be tired or need any rest—it didn’t do anything! So get outside and get moving. Fresh air is a great way to charge up during the day so you can rest well at night.
- Try aromatherapy or oils. I spray a bit of lavender chamomile mist onto my pillow some nights, and I’ve noticed those are the evenings that I really drift off quickly!
- Create an environment conducive for sleep. Keep a dark, cool room. The worst thing is to wake up sweating and hot. Turn down the lights to prepare for peaceful relaxation and quiet time. Sweet dreams!