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Nurses are needed round-the-clock, so what if getting enough sleep just isn’t possible?
It is no surprise to hear that getting enough sleep is essential for good health. A lack of sleep is connected to everything from an increased risk of obesity, heart disease, depression, and even getting in a car accident on the way home from work.
This is not great news for nurses working long 12 hours shifts, especially if they work mid-shifts, night shifts or swing shifts (alternating day and night shifts).
There is an abundance of information on why sleep is good for us and how to get more of it. Those are easy tips to give when you don’t work long 12+ hour shifts throughout the day and night as a nurse.
But, when you add parenthood into the picture, getting enough quality sleep sometimes becomes impossible. Just ask a shift worker with kids!
Getting enough quality sleep is always the goal
When we sleep, our bodies do a lot of necessary and essential work. Throughout the night (or day, if you are a night shift worker), our body enters REM sleep (our dream state) between 3-5 times. This is controlled by our body’s circadian rhythm, which is also responsible for helping to regenerate every cell in our body.
Without restorative sleep cycles, our body loses the opportunity to regenerate our organs and cells. We essentially lose our battery power. Then we feel tired, cranky, and unwell when we get up the next day.
But patient care is needed 24/7, 365 days a year, and nurses are working some pretty crazy hours.
So the question is: how are sleep deprived nurses supposed to care for their health when getting enough sleep is sometimes not a realistic option?
7 Nurse Health Tips When Getting Enough Sleep Isn’t Possible
Again – getting enough restorative sleep is the goal. But if that is not an option due to your work or family schedule, here are a few tips to take better care of yourself in the interim.
Tired nurse health tip #1: drink matcha tea instead of coffee
Matcha green tea contains vitamin A and C, iron, calcium, protein, and potassium – none of which are found in coffee. Matcha also contains types of antioxidants called catechins, which are known to prevent cancer in the body. Many studies have linked green tea to a variety of health benefits such as weight loss, preventing heart disease, and preventing type 2 diabetes.
Also, matcha green tea provides a less jittery caffeine high than coffee. That is because matcha contains L-Theanine, an amino acid that helps your body process caffeine differently than coffee. As a result, matcha contains much less caffeine than coffee yet has a more sustained energy boost, without the crash later on.
As you probably know, nurse break rooms are filled with junk foods like donuts and cookies. Not getting enough shut-eye may make you more likely to reach for those unhealthy snacks for extra energy. Adding a cup or two of matcha green tea instead can help nurses get a little extra nutritional fuel while also maintaining alertness throughout the day.
You can make matcha green tea at home or work.
2. Get some exercise
Tired nurse health tip #2: get moving for more energy!
When you’re sleep-deprived, the last thing you want to think about is moving more. But, sleep and exercise are inter-correlated with one another in a way that may benefit the sleep-deprived nurse.
First of all, when you are fatigued, getting in a little exercise might be exactly what you need to feel more energized and boost overall health. I know what you’re thinking – lack of sleep makes people not want to exercise. However, even a 20-30 minute brisk walk can help you feel better when you are fatigued.
Second, exercise has long been associated with achieving higher quality sleep. Many nurses work odd hours – so the opportunity for slumber can fall at really strange times. Evidence demonstrates that exercise helps you fall asleep faster and achieve better quality sleep – a benefit to shift workers who have difficulty sleeping during unusual times.
Tired nurse health tip #3: pack your lunch, so you don’t reach for unhealthy snacks when you are tired!
When nurses are tired and short on time, we tend to gravitate towards unhealthy convenience foods. A helpful way to prevent this from happening is to prepare all of your meals and snacks for your shifts ahead of time. By making ahead, you can plan healthy, easy-to-grab snacks instead of reaching for the donuts or other junk food lurking in the break room.
Start by meal prepping one day a week, or if you are like me, just pack your lunch the day before your shifts. As a mom, I’m always preparing food for my kids, so I use that time to make my lunches as well.
Then it’s easy to pack it into your lunch bag the night before.
Here are a few healthy, easy snack foods for tired nurses on-the-go:
- apples and almond butter
- almonds or trail mix
- smoothies (put all the chopped ingredients in a Nutribullet, add liquid and blend when you are ready to eat!)
- veggies and hummus or guacamole dip
- hard-boiled eggs
- cottage cheese and pineapple
- string cheese
- peanut butter and celery
- pumpkin seeds
- overnight oatmeal
A lunch bag makes it easier to pack healthier foods for work.
Tired nurse health tip #4: take power naps to recharge during the day.
Taking a power nap helps refuel your body in the middle of the day.
According to the National Sleep Foundation naps can:
- Restore alertness, enhance performance, and reduce mistakes and accidents. A study at NASA on sleepy military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness 100%!
- Naps can increase alertness in the period directly following the nap and may extend alertness a few hours later in the day. Great for nurses working 12+ hour shifts!
- Napping is psychologically beneficial and provides an easy way to get some relaxation and rejuvenation.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it – nurses should have sleep pods at the hospital they can access during any break. Imagine how much more productive we would be!
An eye mask will make it easier to nap during the day.
5. Avoid mindless social media browsing when you do have the opportunity to sleep
Tired nurse health tip #5: sleep when you have the opportunity to sleep.
Not only is 99% of social media browsing a colossal time-suck, but the light from your cell phone messes up your sleep.
Cell phones emit bright blue light that is meant to stimulate the brain. By looking at a cell phone before bed, it causes the brain to stop producing melatonin, which is the hormone that cues the mind that its time for slumber. As a result, smartphone light can disrupt the sleep cycle, which makes it hard to fall and stay asleep.
In other words, better quality sleep = happier, healthier nurse.
6. Drink lots of water (get a water bottle!)
Tired nurse health tip #6: Always have a water bottle with you at work, so you drink enough water during shifts!
Nursing is a physically active profession. Many nurses are walking several miles and are on their feet for most of a single shift. Making sure you are adequately hydrated can make a big difference in how you feel because dehydration can make sleep deprivation even worse.
Water helps carry nutrients to your body’s cells and helps remove waste. This is why when you are dehydrated, you may feel tired and weaker than usual. Consuming a sufficient amount of fluids in beverages and water-filled food (such as fruits, vegetables, and soup) will help replenish the water your body loses throughout your shifts and can help you maintain your energy.
The Food and Nutrition Board set general recommendations for women at approximately 2.7 liters (91 ounces) of total water each day, and men an average of roughly 3.7 liters (125 ounces daily) of total water. However, the reality is that a person’s size, activity level, and medical needs, among other factors, will result in different fluid intake requirements for different people.
Stay hydrated during your shifts by keeping your water bottle close by.
7. Do restorative yoga before bed
Tired nurse health tip #7: restorative yoga will help you fall asleep faster.
Restorative yoga is a great way to wind down from a shift at work, especially when you need a little TLC. The practice allows you to be still, focus on your breathing, and invite a sense of calm into your body. All of which helps to relax the nervous system and prepare your body for a good sleep.
Yoga also helps relieve stress and anxiety that come with busy nursing shifts, especially when they are exacerbated by chronic sleep deprivation. Start with a few rounds of deep breathing and tune into yourself. Follow with a seated twist, knees-to-chest pose, happy baby, a reclining twist, and then end your practice with your legs up the wall.
Why not start a nightly restorative yoga ritual to help to drift off to sleep peacefully instead of losing sleep by getting stuck on your phone?
Leave your yoga mat out so you are reminded to use it!
Are you tired yet?
Sleep is crucial for overall good health. Unfortunately, many nurses work unpredictable and unusual hours compared to the rest of the world. That often leaves nurses in a position where no matter what they do, getting enough sleep during the night doesn’t always happen.
But when you prepare ahead, there are still other ways that you can take good care of yourself – at least until you can get a good night of sleep!
Take care of your health, nurse!
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Are you a nurse who works long 12-hour shifts?
If the answer is yes, that’s awesome! You are working in an honorable and philanthropically rewarding field. But unfortunately, if you are like a lot of hardworking shift workers, you may at times feel overworked, exhausted, and even burned out.
Everyone knows that 12-hour shift schedules can be extremely demanding. What are you doing for yourself to ensure that you stay healthy and thrive?
With a little preparation and focus on your well-being, you can be both a healthy nurse and give great care to your patients. Its time to focus on nurse self-care!
11 tips to THRIVE as a nurse during 12-hour shifts:
Nurse self-care should be a priority. That includes getting a good night’s sleep!
Nursing schedules revolve around a need for 24/7 patient care. Sleep deprivation is a real concern, especially for those working night shifts. Nurse self-care starts with a good night (or in some cases day) of sleep. Here are a few tips to encourage healthier sleep habits after you complete a 12-hour shift:
- Turn off the tv (an hour of sleep is always more important than another episode)
- Calm your mind and body with a few easy yoga stretches (hint: yoga props such as a mat, yoga blocks, and a strap can be helpful with restorative stretches).
- Take a hot shower
- Try meditation (Headspace is a great meditation app for busy people)
- Use good earplugs and a sleep mask
- Get into bed an hour earlier than you usually do (& see how much better you feel after one week!)
Nurse, get your heart rate up!
Get your heart rate up on your days off! The benefits of exercise have been well documented is essential for nurse self-care. It is no secret that regular exercise helps control weight, boosts overall energy, improves your mood, and helps decrease stress levels. Not only does exercise benefit the nurse personally, but it also allows nurses to have the stamina to give better care to patients as well.
Need to blow off some steam after a stressful day? A yoga session or brisk 30-minute walk can help. Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. Which, in turn, will help manage caregiver burden and help you feel your best.
#3. Grocery shop
A well-balanced diet is essential for nurse health and wellness.
Grocery shopping is so important for nurses and other hospital workers to ensure proper nutrition. It is no secret that healthy food choices are crucial for overall good health and well-being. Make sure you are filling your plate with high-density vitamins and minerals. You simply can’t maintain good energy and stamina over a 12-hour shift on sugary snacks and fast food!
Plan ahead by creating a grocery list of the foods you want to eat while you are at work. That way, you won’t be tempted to reach for something unhealthy when you have a few moments to eat in-between caring for patients.
Tips for nurses to make healthy meals fast: Try making a big batch of quinoa, brown rice, or black bean pasta to have handy in the fridge. These are a few great staples that you can build a nourishing meal around. When you get hungry, you can mix in a protein, veggies, nuts or seeds, dried fruits, or even just enjoy them with a little olive oil and sea salt. The key is to have healthy food that is easy to prepare BEFORE you get super hungry.
#4. Eat a healthy breakfast
Oats: a nutritious yet straightforward way to start a 12-hour shift (nurse self-care can be tasty!)
Studies show that eating a nutritious breakfast (as opposed to the doughnuts and other goodies often found in the breakroom) can help give you:
- More strength and endurance to engage in physical activity and maintaining stamina to survive through a 12-hour shift.
- Improved concentration, which can help you give better patient care.
- A diet higher in complete nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
Tips for nurses to ensure that you have a nutritious meal ready before each 12-hour shift: Make several mason jars of overnight oats with a variation of these flavors: blueberry/strawberry/raspberry, peanut butter, and maple, banana and walnut, or almond and raisin. You can add ground flaxseed or chia seeds for extra protein and antioxidant benefits. Then top it off with a dash of cinnamon for a delicious ready-to-eat breakfast.
#5. Pack your lunch
Healthy nurse habit: pack your lunch!
Packing a lunch will help ensure that you make wise food choices when you are in the middle of a shift and starting to feel tired. And it will save you a little money to boot!
Here are a few items I use for packing my lunch that help me through every 12-hour shift:
#6. Incorporate healthy snacks into your shift
Almonds: a healthy nurse snack!
Nurse break rooms are notorious for having sugary snacks like donuts, cookies, or other unhealthy junk food all within an arms reach. Sweets are so tempting to nibble on when you are tired and need a little extra energy. But then a few moments later you crash and are even more tired. On another note, eating nutritious and easy snacks will keep you energized during a 12-hour shift.
Pack snacks like these in your lunch bag to help keep your blood sugar levels balanced during your shift:
- Baby carrots, broccoli or other veggies & hummus
- Celery and almond butter
- Strawberries, blueberries
- Granola and yogurt
- Almonds or cashews
- Avocado toast
- Sliced apples and peanut butter
- Cottage cheese with pineapple or banana
- Trail mix
#7. Don’t overdo caffeine
Green tea: a healthy drink for 12-hour shift workers!
Many studies suggest that coffee and tea have incredible health benefits while also giving you an extra boost of energy. Unfortunately, caffeine can also have the opposite effect by leading to rebound fatigue after it leaves your system. Therefore, it’s a good idea to aim for moderate caffeine intake to help minimize rebound fatigue.
Additionally, one of the drawbacks of too much caffeine late in a 12-hour shift is that it can also cause insomnia. And nurses need their sleep to help recover from the hard work we do taking care of patients each day!
Extra tip: Green teas (like this one) can give you an energy boost with additional antioxidant benefits and without the caffeine jitters!
#8. Get good shoes
Nurses must invest in good shoes to maintain foot health.
It is not uncommon for nurses to be on their feet for 8 to 12 hours or longer during a shift. That is why it is essential that you wear comfortable and durable shoes during your shift.
I have been alternating between my Dansko clogs and New Balance tennis shoes as a nurse for over six years. My feet thank me for it. Invest in quality footwear that is built to protect the feet of busy hospital workers who are on their feet all day.
“I wish I didn’t invest in comfortable, sturdy shoes,” said no nurse ever.
#9. Remember to drink water
Drink water throughout your 12-hour shift and stay hydrated!
Have you ever worked an entire shift and realized at the end that you forgot to drink water for the whole day. It is so easy to do when you are extremely busy with back to back patients and heavy work assignments.
Invest in a good water bottle with a seal-able lid (to prevent accidental spillage). Keep it where you do most of your charting in the nurse’s station. And try to make it a priority to drink your water every hour during your shift to stay hydrated.
Here are a few favorites:
Make your own chia seed water: Add 3 tbsp of organic chia seeds to your water bottle and mix well (you can add more or less to your liking). Within a few hours, the seeds will blow up in size and into a gelatinous consistency.
(Chia seeds are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, rich in antioxidants, fiber, iron, and calcium. Just another easy way to add nutrients into your busy day!)
#10. Wear compression socks
Nurse health & your venous system: wear compression socks!
Compression socks or stockings are non-negotiable for healthcare workers who are on their feet for 12-hour shifts! Here are three fundamental reasons why compression socks are a must-have for every shift worker:
- Prevention of varicose veins: Standing for extended periods causes valves in the veins to become weakened, causing blood to collect in the veins. This causes the veins to enlarge, increase in pressure and stretch, causing unsightly varicose veins.
- Improved blood flow and decreased risk of blood clots: A study by The Society of Occupational Medicine found that wearing compression stockings significantly decreased lower limb venous pressure in nurses who stood for very long hours.
- Decreased swelling of ankles and feet: Swollen ankles and feet are a common side effect of being on one’s feet for a 12-hour shift.
Many nurses who wear compression socks say that their legs “feel more energized” after a 12-hour shift. Pregnant shift workers are especially at risk of leg swelling (due to increased blood volumes during pregnancy) and should consider wearing them to prevent venous issues.
#11. Do yoga
Nurses need to practice yoga for self-care.
Nurses need yoga, period. Not only does yoga replenishes depleted reserves after a 12-hour shift, but a relaxed and more focused nurse can give better patient care.
Yoga’s amazing benefits on physical and mental health are well documented in the literature. The Mayo Clinic has stated that “yoga may help reduce stress, lower blood pressure and lower your heart rate,” among many other benefits.
Nurse self-care in the form of yoga is scientifically proven to be beneficial:
- Stress management. A study published in the National Institute of Biotechnology Information investigated the effects of yoga on stress coping strategies of ICU nurses. After only eight weeks of yoga, the results showed that the participating ICU nurses had significantly better focus coping strategies and a major reduction in perceived mental pressure. (If that is what can happen after only eight weeks, imagine the impact a regular, permanent yoga practice could have on stress management levels!).
- Prevent or eliminate chronic low back pain. Chronic back pain in the nursing population is a common ailment. An evidenced-based review at the Texas Women’s University reported that estimates of chronic low back pain among nurses range from 50%-80%. Yoga not only increases flexibly but increases muscle strength and prevents injuries such as chronic lower back pain.
- Prevent burnout and compassion fatigue: A study published in Workplace Health & Safety on yoga for self-care and burnout prevention of nurses found that yoga participants “reported significantly higher self-care as well as less emotional exhaustion upon completion of an 8-week yoga intervention.”
Are you a nurse who is experiencing burnout and want to live a healthier life? Nurse self-care should not be an afterthought. Do you have any other self-care tips for nurses that you would like to add? Leave a comment!
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