1.) Shift Work Disorder
Working the night shift? Yup, that’s wrecking your sleep cycle! It should come as no surprise that during the night shift, when your internal clock is saying you should be asleep, you feel excessively tired, fatigued and less alert. That’s also why you might have difficulty falling and staying asleep during the day, when your body’s sleep-wake rhythm demands you be awake. One trick to help? Begin altering your sleep schedule three days in advance of a shift change. On the third day prior to the shift change and each subsequent day, postpone your bedtime and wake time by one to two hours compared to the previous day. By the time you begin the new shift, your circadian sleep-wake rhythm will be reoriented.
2.) Acid reflux issues
If you’ve been diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disorder (or are a GI nurse!), you know acid backups can cause heartburn and pain, interrupting your sleep. But undiagnosed, mild acid reflux that doesn’t cause pain might have only one symptom—disturbing your sleep! If you’re experiencing chronic sleep problems, have your doctor test you for GERD; the treatment will help you rest easy again.
3.) Too much bedroom activity
No…not that kind of bedroom activity! In this day of being able to bring your life everywhere with you in the form of computers, netbooks and smartphones, 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. Blue light waves in particular can affect sleep patterns, so keep your work and play out of the bedroom (this means cell phones, iPads, computers, your paperwork, you name it!).
4.) Nap sabotage
That 30-minute nap you took when you got off your crazy shift? Yep, it might be the cause of your sleepless night. Napping within eight hours of bedtime can make it much harder for you to fall (and stay) asleep at night. If you just can’t keep your eyes open, nap early in the day and for short intervals only.
5.) 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 each of you. 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 so you’re not too worn out for work in the morning.
6.) Pill problems
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. Some vitamins might affect your sleep cycle as well—Vitamin B6, for example, can give you vivid dreams that’ll wake you up! Ask your doctor if certain vitamins you’re taking might be better popped in the morning!
7.) Midnight snacks (and drinks!)
Tossing and turning all night? Your tummy (and the dreaded “nurse diet”) may be to blame. Many people find it more difficult to get a good night’s sleep if they eat or drink within two hours of lying down. If needed, have a glass of milk or light snack before bed. Milk contains the amino acid L-tryptophan, which research has shown helps people fall asleep. Avoid consuming protein at bedtime, which may be harder to digest. Don’t drink excessive fluids prior to bedtime to avoid having to get up to urinate and interrupting your sleep cycle, and in particular, stay away from alcohol—it acts as a sedative at first, but drops your blood sugar and wakes you up again in just a few short hours.
8.) Pain Pressure
Sure, you know that killer headache or those sore feet from standing all day might keep you up at night from the pain. But mild pain—even pain that doesn’t bother you or wake you up—can affect your sleep rhythms. Those pesky pain signals actually disrupt and fragment your rest, so you might wake up feeling tired and groggy, even after a full night of sleep. If you have any chronic pain, discuss it with your doctor for a solution.
It happens to everyone—some nights, after some tough shifts, it’s just too hard to “turn off” your brain and get the sleep you need. To make sure your worries don’t keep you up at night, stop working on any task and attempt to resolve anything potentially stimulating, worrisome or upsetting one hour before bedtime. Writing down your emotional worries and thoughts in a journal may help release these concerns from your mind. Learn a relaxation technique, such as progressive muscle relaxation, and practice it in bed.
10.) Being too tired
Picture this: You come home after a long shift completely exhausted and drop immediately into bed. An hour later, though, you’re still staring at the clock. What gives? It turns out that being too tired when you hit the hay can actually keep you awake—your body may be hyped up on adrenaline. No matter how tired you are, make sure to spend an hour decompressing when you get home; try reading a book or sitting and chatting quietly with your partner. It’ll make all the difference when you finally do go to bed!