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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.
1. Drink matcha green 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.
2. Get some exercise
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.
3. Pack a lunch bag
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
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!
5. Avoid mindless social media browsing when you do 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!)
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.
7. Do restorative yoga before bed
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?
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!
Additional recommended reading:
- Jobs For Nurses Who Don’t Want To Be Nurses Anymore
- Working Mom Health Tips For 12 Hour Shifts
- Nurse Health: Self Care For 12 Hour Shifts
- 5 Ways Nurses Can Practice Holistic Self Care
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