As I’m sitting here with a case of insomnia-induced apathy after a terrible, three-week stretch of school/work/life, I decided I should write a post on sleep since we never get enough and can’t fall asleep even when we have the time. If you do any sort of shift work, sleeping becomes even more difficult. Being a woman, a nurse, and anxiety ridden individual, sleeping is something I have battled almost my whole life. I have always been an early riser and after reading this article, I convinced myself working night shift was basically attempting to changing my genes. I know we tend to blow sleep off, but it’s really, really, important. Here are just a few reasons why we need sleep including memory, immune function, mood, and physical and emotional health.
But, honestly, let’s get real. We all know we need it, how in the heck do we get it working rotating shifts, going to school, raising kids, having families etc.? Also, it’s evident that sleeping during the day will never be as beneficial as sleeping at night, so we have to do the best we can. Over the years, I have compiled a decent list of sleep tips I would like to share. Some are research driven, some are just my own advice – take what you can, leave the rest, and share any tips of your own.
SET THE MOOD
You’ve got it, set the mood. Take a hot shower or bath before bed and diffuse some lavender essential oil. Try to eliminate screen time an hour before you go to sleep. The excessive light, late at night will trick your brain into thinking it is daytime. Also, I use the “Night Shift” function on my iPhone to change the color of the screen earlier in the evening to rest my eyes. Finally, I try not to eat anything 1-2 hours before I go to bed. Indigestion and acid reflux tend to interrupt my sleep, so I avoid the issue.
SET THE ROOM
This is the most important part for me. Cold, dark, rooms are the best for sleeping. My thermostat is typically on 68-70 degrees in the summer time and I have blackout curtains on my windows. Sometimes, I use a sleep mask just to make sure I don’t “see” any light. Once again, if you are working night shift, the idea is to trick your body into thinking it is nighttime. Side note, I actually had a nurse friend inflate an air mattress and put it in a dark closet with a fan so she could sleep for night shift.
Regarding the bed, try to make sure the sheets are clean and your bed is somewhere you enjoy being. When I finally made the very adult step to buy nicer furniture for myself after college, my bed was my first purchase. I have never regretted spending the extra cash on my Tempur Pedic Cloud mattress or buying slightly nicer sheets. I love sleeping in my bed.
Oh man, this one is tough and is probably synonymous with kids. If at all possible, try to eliminate any interruptions. My dog is a great sleeper and rarely wakes me up, but some of my friends aren’t so lucky. If you have to, put your pupper in a crate while you sleep, it’s definitely worth it. However, I wouldn’t recommend doing this to your kids.
I have tried all of these and rotate sometimes. For the last six months or so, I have been listening to the “Sleep With Me” podcast. This podcast features, literally the most boring voice on earth talking about nothing. For some reason, this guy just puts me to sleep most nights. I have also used noisemakers via an app on my phone – the crackling fire sound and the waterfall sound are my favorite. Finally, sometimes I skip the noise and I just like plain, old, silence. You have to experiment and choose what works for you.
I recently started heart-to-belly breathing before bed and it has been life changing. I doubt I do this perfectly correct, but your left hand goes on your heart and your right hand rests on your belly. Before bed, you learn to focus on your breathing and calm yourself. By feeling your heart rate increase or decrease it helps you gauge your relaxation and anxiety. Eventually, once you have calmed yourself, you drift to sleep.
I’m not really a fan of medications and I’m in no position to give medical advice one them. I have tried them all and typically end up awakening with a medication hangover. Some people like melatonin and other herbals, but I’d rather just avoid them. See your family NP or MD for more advice on meds.
UGH. Why does this work so well? Exercise is my friend and it is so hard to be disciplined enough so work out consistently. I have been better lately, but typically go in waves with my discipline. Consequently, so does my sleep pattern. Daily exercise is probably the single most important factor for me when it comes to getting a decent nights rest.
If you can’t bring yourself to read the whole article, here is your bulleted list of suggestions:
- Take a hot bath or shower before bed
- Diffuse lavender essential oil
- Drink decaf hot tea
- Use the night shift function on your phone to change the screen color
- Eliminate screen time 1 hour before bed
- No TV in the bedroom
- Don’t eat 1-2 hours before bed
- Turn the thermostat down
- Make sure the room is dark
- Use blackout curtains
- Make your bed super comfortable
- Change the sheets
- Use a sleep mask
- Put the pupper in a crate or lock pets out of the room
- Use a noisemaker
- Listen to the “Sleep With Me” podcast
- Use a fan for background noise
- Use the heart-to-belly breathing technique
- Avoid sugar and caffeine
- Consult your NP or MD regarding medications
- Just keep trying
Even after doing all of these, you still may not be able to sleep. At this point, you should consider trying to switch to a dayshift position. I found that after switching to dayshift, it took me 6-12 months before I felt even close to normal again. Good luck everyone! The hospital life is a tough one to sleep through.