How Nurses Can Sleep Better 

happy nurse

Being a nurse means having a job that is demanding and relentless. No matter where you work or what department you’re in, you’re going to find that you need to work hard and that your days are likely to be hectic and stressful. It’s therefore ideal if you can get a good amount of sleep before each shift. It would seem as though that would be easy. 

After all, you’re working hard for long hours so you’re bound to be tired by the time bedtime comes around. 

tired nurses sleeping on the floor

However, the truth is that although you may well be tired, that won’t automatically lead to dropping off quickly. Working long shifts, and witnessing emotional things during that time, can make it hard to get the seven to eight hours of sleep that you need. 

Plus, even if you do get to sleep, there is no guarantee you’ll sleep deeply or for long enough to feel refreshed and alert when you wake up. With that in mind, and knowing how important sleep is for nurses if they are to do their jobs well, here are some useful tips to help you sleep better. 

Make Sleep A Priority 

Making sleep a priority might seem like an obvious statement; nurses know all too well how important sleep is and why they need to get enough of it – they understand health better than anyone because it’s their actual job. However, even if a nurse does know that sleep should be a priority, that doesn’t mean they will (or can) make it one. 

Often things can get in the way and they’ll have to resort to catching up on sleep later, or that one night of little sleep won’t be a problem. The issue, though, is that you can never catch up on sleep, especially if you have a busy job like nursing, and even one bad night can have a major detrimental impact on how you work. 

Therefore, it’s crucial that sleep becomes a priority. This means limiting the amount of work you actually do in some cases. You’ll have your allocated shifts, but sometimes a colleague might ask you to help them out and switch shifts with them. Think carefully about whether this will affect your sleep or not. If it will, you may need to learn to say no. 

The same is true for any other plans; sleep has to take precedence. 

Use Caffeine Wisely 

Caffeine can be a useful substance for nurses, but it can also have its drawbacks. If you drink some coffee before your shift, and perhaps later in the shift when you feel you are getting tired, it can be just the pick-me-up you need to work well. However, don’t overdo it. 

It’s so easy to drink too much caffeine – sipping on coffee throughout your shift can feel like the right thing to do, especially if hot beverages are easily accessible. However, if you drink caffeine within the six hours before you intend to go to sleep, you might find that it causes you to have problems nodding off because it has made you too alert and stimulated. 

Not only that, but too much caffeine can raise your heart rate and blood pressure, and that can leave you vulnerable to heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke. 

Have a Good Routine 

Although you might not be able to have a routine like a lot of people do when you’re a nurse, mainly due to your shift patterns, you can still have a routine that helps you and that you can stick to. Start by knowing how much sleep you need to have – this will determine your wake-up times. 

Now you have that in place, you can determine how many hours are left, and ensure that you leave enough time for eating, relaxation, spending time with your family, and anything else. 

nurse's healthy food

If you’re also studying for additional nursing qualifications to enhance your career, you need to factor these in too – if you’re studying online this will be much easier as your studies can be flexible depending on your need for sleep and the shift pattern you happen to be working. 

Make sure you let your family or anyone you live with know that you are sleeping so that you are not disturbed. 

Trying to fit everything in might not be possible because, as we’ve discussed above, sleep has to be a priority. However, you must remember that you can do things on your days off, so don’t feel guilty; you can only do so much, and you have to sleep. 

Have Enough Light 

Light is an important component of getting you to sleep. We don’t mean that you have to lie in a brightly lit bedroom; quite the opposite, in fact – your bedroom needs to be as dark as possible if you’re going to sleep well. So what do we mean when we talk about needing light? 

The body has its own bedtime detection system called the circadian rhythm. This is what tells the body it’s tired and that it’s time to go to sleep. Most of the time this works well on its own, but when you work shifts, it can be hard because the circadian rhythm gets confused. 

However, using light to help it can be ideal. If you make sure that when you start your day you have plenty of light around, both in your home and at work, then your body will know it’s time to be awake. As the day wears on, and certainly by the time you get home, you’ll want to gradually reduce this and make it darker. 

This will help the body know it’s time for bed. By using artificial light, and natural daylight where possible, you can essentially fool the body to ensure that you can get to sleep at the right times. 

Exercise Well

As every nurse should know, regular exercise is a crucial part of staying fit and healthy. It can also be very useful when it comes to helping you feel alert or helping you get to sleep. Of course, every nurse also knows that it’s not always easy to fit an entire exercise regime into their day. Often there isn’t time for a gym class, workout, or even a run or bike ride, especially if you’re working a long shift or extra hours on overtime. 

With that being said, though, it is a rarity for most nurses that each shift is not a workout in and of itself. Working without respite and accumulating thousands upon thousands of steps in a fast-paced, demanding environment is to many the very definition of a HIT workout. 

Pedometers are great for anyone interested in tracking their activity and many smartphones and smartwatches have this function built-in. If you have not hit your daily steps target and you’re feeling a little sluggish mentally, finding a way to feel more awake can be as easy as climbing a set of stairs. 

This will immediately wake you up thanks to increased blood flow as well as chemicals such as serotonin produced in your body.

By the time bedtime comes, this additional exercise will ensure you are feeling tired enough to sleep, so it works for every need you might have. As an added benefit, it keeps you fit and healthy! 

Don’t Try To Push Through 

Nurses want to help their patients as much as possible – this is probably the reason you became a nurse in the first place. However, there has to be a line drawn between helping them and helping yourself. You have to be the priority, even if that is a hard thing to do. 

The truth is that you won’t be able to help anyone else if you don’t help yourself first because you’ll become sick and unwell. 

This is why you must not try to push through and keep working when you hit a level of tiredness that is truly affecting your abilities, whether that’s physical, mental, emotional, or a combination of them all. 

When you are feeling like this, it’s crucial you take a break. This may mean asking a colleague to take over for a few minutes, or perhaps partnering with someone to share the tasks that have to be done. This won’t be a complete break, but it’s better than trying to do everything alone and then becoming unwell or making a mistake through fatigue. 

happy nurse

Take A Nap

This piece of advice may not be possible to follow as a nurse working in a hospital or clinic; sleeping on the job is usually frowned upon. However, napping when you’re at home is not a bad thing, as long as you are careful about it. 

In fact, napping can be the best thing for you in some cases. As we’ve mentioned above, trying to push through when you’re tired is bad for you and those around you. The same is true at home; if you’re tired you might be irritable and more inclined to make errors. If you want to enjoy your time off as much as possible, taking a short nap can give you the energy you need to keep going.