By Liz Scala
One of the greatest challenges that every nurse faces at one point in their career is lack of sleep. Working as a nurse, we are sometimes put on various shifts. We are asked to swing back and forth between days and nights. We get brought in for on-calls, which could be a random night shift mixed into a run of 12 hour days. Or we are placed on permanent night-shift, even when undesired, to help unit staffing when resources are scarce.
Not only does the professional staffing model of nursing create sleep disturbances, but our own experiences as a nurse often adds fuel to the fire. When I worked on my unit, I would lie awake for up to 2-3 hours, unable to fall asleep. I would get up at 3 or 4 am with my mind racing about staff, patients, and work issues. I would toss and turn or go into my other bedroom in an attempt to change the scenery as a way to trick myself back to sleep. I was constantly thinking about my job and had trouble letting go and drifting off. Then in the mornings, as the alarm clock would get ready to ring, I would be wide awake watching the minutes and seconds go by wishing it was not yet time to get out of bed.
We take care of difficult patients. We observe death and pathology. We work with challenging personalities. No wonder we have a lot on our minds! But sleeping, or not sleeping, in this way can lead to terrible problems. Mistakes can be made at work if our concentration is poor or our minds are foggy. Moods can swing as we feel irritable, exhausted, and overwhelmed. Illness can exacerbate as inadequate rest can lead to depression, weight gain, and decreased immune function.
So what do we do with all of this? How can we ensure we receive proper rest? Well, there are a couple of things.
If you can, try to get on a schedule. I know with shift work sometimes this is impossible. But the more you can get onto a schedule of bedtime at 10 pm and waking up at 6 am each day, the easier it will be for you to quickly drift off.
Keep your bed and your room just for sleeping. Do not lie in bed while on the computer. Do not watch TV and try to “fall asleep.” Read in a comfortable chair before bed, but not in the bed itself. You have to train your body to know that when you get into the bed; it is time for rest. (And I have heard people say that TV or radio helps them sleep- it might feel that way, but it is not the restful rejuvenating sleep you need because your subconscious is still tuned on listening to the background noise).
Journal in the evening. I find it helpful to write out what I am grateful for, what I got done each day, and what I plan for the next day so that when I lay down it is not inside my head thus causing my mind to race. Getting it out onto paper gets it out of our minds.
Do not eat or drink too close to bedtime. I notice when I cut off my water intake at 6 pm, I do not get up those nights to use the bathroom at all. 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.
Get activity and movement in each day. If you don’t do anything physical during the day, that gets your heart rate pumping, 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 that you can rest well during the night!
Try aromatherapy or oils. I spray a bit of lavender chamomile mist onto my pillow some nights and notice those are the evenings that I really drift off quite quickly!
Create an environment conducive for sleep. Keep a dark, cool room. The worst thing is to wake up seating and hot. Turn down the lights to prepare for peaceful relaxation and quiet time.
About the Author: Liz Scala writes about Health and Wellness monthly for AMSDaily. You can visit her blog at Living Sublime Wellness to read more on these topics. She is also one of the authors of the book, “The Best Inspirational Storie I Ever Read: Guide to a Purposeful Life”.