Nurses are at a higher risk for an ailment referred to as shift work disorder. This disruption in sleeping patterns can make it increasingly difficult to get the sleep you need, and ultimately affect the way you function. If your nursing shifts are typically longer than 8 hours, or you work during off hours, then you may already be suffering the effects.
Not every nurse working 12-hour shifts will develop shift work disorder, but it is something that you should be aware of. Knowing the causes and symptoms will help you to recognize it fast and make the necessary changes in your work and life to avoid any further disruption.
The Risks of Shift Work Sleep Disorder
Nurses who work frequent 12-hour shifts, rotate shifts, or are on multiple night duty will begin to lose the ability to focus. Memory becomes impaired, and you will find that you are depressed and irritable more often. Physically, you may find that you are prone to ulcers and heart disease. By not getting the proper amount of sleep, you are affecting the body and mind’s ability to function normally.
Working long hours is exhausting, and not just from the physical and mental strain of patient care. The human body has its own clock, which dictates when it should be awake, and when it is time to sleep. Once you have disrupted that clock, you will find it difficult to get the 6 to 8 hours of sleep you need. This could cause you to develop shift work sleep disorder.
Getting To Sleep After a Long Nursing Shift
After spending 12 hours of work, you would assume that falling to sleep and staying there would be as simple as closing your eyes. Yet it is not that easy for many nurses. Despite the body’s craving for a good 8-hour rest, it may be too wound up to get there. If your sleep deprivation starts by not being able to drift off, one of these techniques may help:
- Take a Hot Bath or Shower – The heat of a shower or bath will relax tense muscles and help to slowly lull your body into a tranquil state. Scented soaps or essential oils in lavender can intensify the experience by relaxing the mind and putting it into a state more inclined to sleep.
- Read a Short Story – The bright colors of your TV stimulate the brain in a way that can make sleep elusive, and with a long book, you could become too engrossed to put it down. A simple short story is just the right length, without any bells and whistles, to take your mind away from work and into dreamland.
- Eat Light – Don’t go to sleep on an empty stomach, but also don’t binge on a big meal. This could cause you gastric distress that wakes you up in the middle of the night.
- Darken Your Room – Room darkening curtains are a must have if you have difficulty with falling asleep. Also, unplug any nightlights and charge your cell phone upside down so that the unexpected light does not jolt you awake.
- Avoid Caffeine – Stop the coffee and cola drinks at least 4 hours before your shift is set to end. Not only can caffeine make falling asleep difficult, it will cause disruptions in the much-needed REM sleep.
- Remove Distractions – Turn off your phone, radio, laptop, and any other device that can permeate your consciousness as you sleep.
- Keep Your Room Cool – We sleep better in a room that is slightly cool compared to one that is hot. Find a cozy blanket to cuddle under and turn down the thermostat before drifting off.
- No Drinking Before Lights Out – Alcohol may seem like it can help you to fall asleep faster, but it will also cause you to wake up during the night (or day).
- Set Your Alarm Clock – The pressure of knowing that you have to wake up on time can sometimes override your ability to sleep well. Give yourself confidence by setting your alarm clock before going to bed so that you can sleep comfortably.
With these practices in place, you can count on at least six hours of uninterrupted sleep, helping you to avoid developing work shift sleep disorder. You will feel energized at the start of your day, and be able to focus clearly on the tasks at hand.
If you do try these tricks and find that good sleeping patterns still elude you, consider speaking to a professional. Sleep is vital to healthy living, and medical intervention may be necessary to get your body back on the right track.
What do you think? Have any tried and true post-shift sleep tips? Share in the comments section below.