Working consecutive shifts of 10, 12, or 16 hours with only one or two days off in-between can mess with your bedtime routine and rob you of quality sleep. Working the evening shift can hamper your sleep-wake cycle particularly since functioning through the night and sleeping by day goes against your body’s light-influenced circadian rhythm. Even one day without good sleep can cause extreme fatigue, poor concentration, delayed reaction time, impaired judgement, irritability, anxiety, and mood swings.
If any of these scenarios hit home for you, then your lack of sleep is getting the best of you. Here’s what you need to know so that can do something about it.
What defines a good night’s sleep?
According to studies by leading sleep researchers, 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep is considered optimum—and sleep quality is as important as sleep duration. Here’s why:
Good sleep progresses through 5 phases and we cycle through them 4 or 5 times each night. Uninterrupted slumber (and plenty of it) allows you to repeatedly reach sleep’s most restorative phase—which is crucial to good health and peak performance. If you wake repeatedly during sleep, you might never reach the deep sleep phase, which is as bad as not really getting any sleep at all.
For most of us, getting 7 hours of good sleep on a regular basis is a luxury we can only dream about. Yet there are some things you can do to promote better sleep and keep your cognitive functions running more smoothly.
Avoid foods that interrupt the sleep-wake cycle.
- Stay away from heavy meals or spicy foods within 3 hours of bedtime. Besides giving you indigestion, spicy foods elevate body temperature, which delays your transition into sleep.
- Refrain from stimulants such as chocolate, coffee, and alcohol. While alcohol helps us nod off sooner, it is likely to disrupt our sleep the second half of the night. Plus, it can cause snoring, night sweats, and nightmares which can lead to wakefulness.
- High-fat, high-sugar foods can also interrupt your shut-eye. Eating these foods as much as 7 hours before bed can fragment your sleep.
Prime yourself (and your bedroom) for sleep.
- If you work the night shift, wear dark wrap-around glasses when commuting home in bright sunlight. Also make your bedroom as dark as possible; use black-out shades or wear a sleep mask. Wear earplugs to block out ambient sounds. Use a white-noise machine to dull sounds from the next room or outside.
- Keep the room temperature at 65 °F (18°C). When we sleep, our body naturally cools down. Helping your body get to that cooler temperature faster can encourage deeper sleep.
- Distance your head about 5 feet from electrical devices (alarm clocks, lamps, power cords, outlets, cell phones, wireless routers, cordless phones). Electro-magnetic energy emitted from these devices can interfere with normal brain-wave activity and disrupt production of serotonin and melatonin, two hormones that modulate the sleep-wake cycle.
- Turn off your TV and power down your computer gadgets at least one hour before going to bed. These devices emit the type of light that suppresses melatonin production.
- Know what soothes you. Tranquil music or relaxing sounds, a scented plug-in candle, or the breeze of a fan can put you in the calm zone.
- If you are a light sleeper, best to relocate your pets to the next room since these beloved creatures are sure to stir during the night. If your significant other is a snorer, best to relocate them, too.
- Upgrade your pillow/mattress to ease chronic neck or back pain.
- Meditate or practice yoga before bed.
- Do some light reading. Sinking into a good book can take your mind off the day’s stresses.
- If you wake in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep within 20 minutes, read or repeat some calming practices (tranquil music, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation). When you feel sleepy again, go back to sleep.
- Make sleep a priority. To help set your body’s internal clock, try to go to sleep and get up the same time every day—even on weekends.
If insufficient sleep continues to zap your mental energy, even after practicing good sleep habits, consider seeking advice from a sleep expert. An underlying medical condition, or an anxiety disorder, might be the cause of your sleep disturbances.
To get more advice on topics relevant to the nursing profession, rely on BOS Medical. Whether you are looking for tips on how to handle challenges in the workplace or want to pursue your career options, our nursing and healthcare staffing recruiters go above and beyond to match each of our candidates to the right job. Contact BOS Medical today to find your next opportunity.