It’s no secret—most nurses don’t get enough sleep. While many Americans admit to not getting enough shut eye, the implications for nurses are far reaching.
The National Sleep Foundation recognizes this week (March 8 – 14) as National Sleep Awareness Week. The irony isn’t lost on nurses that a week devoted to sleep coincides with National Patient Safety Awareness Week (and the switch to Daylight Savings Time and an hour of lost sleep). Patient safety depends on a healthcare workforce that’s able to perform at a consistently high level. Getting less-than-optimal sleep or not sleeping enough cuts into everything from reaction time to memory and has a big impact on the quality of care offered by sleep deprived nurses.
How serious is sleep deprivation to nurses? As many people know, getting enough good-quality rest takes an effort and some planning. For nurses, who tend to have sleep disrupted even more because of changing shift work, planning for a consistent pattern of sleep is a huge challenge.
Last December, a study by researchers at the Rory Meyers College of Nursing found that nurses are getting less sleep before they head to work than they should. The study found “sleep deprivation hurts workers’ ability to handle complex and stressful tasks. … In healthcare, fatigued nurses may be a risk for making critical mistakes in administering medication or making clinical decisions.” Many factors influenced nurses and sleep including changing shifts, length of shifts, commuting time, and family responsibilities, and there’s often little nurses can do to change those major influences. The report, say the authors, is evidence that the overall working environment in healthcare needs an overhaul, especially in areas of overtime, scheduling, and prioritizing sleep.
If nurses can’t change their major responsibilities, there are a few other things they can do that can help them get more rest. Awareness about the impacts of poor sleep and not enough sleep is critical for nurses. While some people can get by skimping on sleep, patients depend on nurses being in top form.
If sleep is a problem for you, here are some things to consider.
Physical issues like sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome can disrupt your sleep.
Shift Work Disorder is directly related to those who work varying shifts and disrupt their circadian rhythms.
For women, hormones can play a big role in sleep disruption.
Family responsibilities like waking children, active teens, and even caring for aging parents can interrupt your sleep.
Stress keeps you up at night.
Fixing the problem starts with identifying it, so take some time to figure out what’s happening in your own life. Making your sleep a priority is probably one of the best ways to get more rest, but it’s also the hardest. Realize that getting your best sleep likely means sacrifice in some other area.
Start with a complete physical if you think apnea, restless legs, or chronic insomnia might be keeping you up. Then make small, incremental changes—maybe by getting to bed 15 or 30 minutes earlier. Assess your bedroom and see if you can make changes to adjust the comfort level in any way. Can your bedtime routine be adjusted at all to give you a little more quiet or a little more routine so your body is triggered into sleep mode. Take a hard look at your responsibilities—can you get help with anything or can you let some things go? What small changes can you make to reduce your stress (therapy, a 10-minute walk, a few minutes to read or to listen to a funny podcast on your commute)?
Getting enough rest is one of the easiest health priorities to let slide. As a nation of sleep-deprived people, you might feel like your issue is no different from anyone else’s. That might be true, but nurses especially owe it to themselves to be as well rested as possible. Your job is physically and mentally exhausting, even on the good days. Restorative sleep helps your body and mind recover and helps keep you at the top of your game.
While Daylight Savings Time has most of us springing our clocks ahead one hour early in the morning of Sunday, March 11, it also means we are losing that extra hour of snoozing.
But paying attention to your forty winks is nothing to slack off on. Nurses, traditional whirlwinds chameleons thanks to long shifts, nighttime hours, family and school obligations, and just plain stress, are typically fairly sleep deprived. Known to fit amazing amounts of tasks into one day, nurses often accomplish these things while shorting their bodies of necessary sleep.
Here are four reasons to pay more attention to your sleep.
1. Your Work Performance
According to the American Sleep Association, lack of dreamtime contributes to big problems on and off the job. You know you’ll feel sleepier during the day, and that’s a problem for nurses when they are working. Given the fast pace of the job and the critical thinking necessary to dose medications or provide care, chronic sleepiness will impact your patient care negatively.
2. Your Health
Not getting enough slumber can also lead to potential health problems. A body that is sleep deprived gets the hormones that regulate appetite mixed up. Not only are you awake extra hours, but you are hungrier during those hours as your body tries to stay alert. If you aren’t careful, this can quickly lead to weight gain and associated problems like high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Lack of sleep can even trigger an improper processing of glucose and can make you more prone to developing Type 2 diabetes.
3. Your Mood
Sleepiness can easily turn to crankiness as your body craves needed rest. Sleep gives you the extra cushion against the things in the world that irritate you. When you haven’t had enough good rest, your mood takes a nosedive and everyone around you notices it. You might be more short-tempered with your friends and loved ones, but it can also impact your attitude with your patients and with your colleagues.
4. Your Quality of Life
As a nurse, you work hard for everyone else’s well being. You spend your days taking care of other people and other needs, often while neglecting what you need. Not getting enough sleep is a sure-fire way to put a wrench into your forward momentum and finding a balance that is sustainable.
The next time you find yourself skimping yet again on crawling into bed, think of how often you tell your patients they need rest to heal and rest to recover. Treat yourself the same way and see if it makes a difference in your life.
Sleepiness can be a big problem in the winter, especially for nurses. Dreary weather combined with late night shifts or erratic on-call schedules can often lead to tired, drowsy days. One of the best ways to fight this sluggishness is to make sure you get a good night’s sleep. Here are five tips you can use now to rest well and wake up alert on winter mornings.
1. Ease up on the heat It’s tempting to turn up the thermostat before heading to bed on a cold winter night. However, according to the National Sleep Foundation, your bedroom should be relatively cool–between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit–for the best comfort.
2. Pay attention to diet and exercise Don’t go to bed too hungry or too full at night. The discomfort from either could make it hard to fall asleep. In addition, avoid stimulants like caffeine right before bedtime. They could take several hours to wear off, which would make it difficult for your body to settle down and rest.
3. Create a bedtime routine Have a pleasant and relaxing night time ritual to help you wind down in the evening. Try reading or listening to soft music in dim light. These activities help signal to your brain that it’s time to shift from active mode to sleep time.
Once you are in bed, avoid distractions such as the TV, laptop, smart phone and other devices, which could cause you to stay stimulated and awake. If necessary, consider using sleep aids such as “white noise machines”, blackout curtains and (if you have a snoring partner) ear plugs. Also, consider using a humidifier if the winter air is uncomfortably dry in your room.
This time of year, less sunlight could affect your circadian rhythm and make it harder for you to fully wake up in the morning. A lighted alarm clock could help brighten your bedroom when it’s time to rise.
Regardless of what you choose for your routine, keep it consistent. Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each morning and night, even on the weekends.
4. Inspect your bedding The average mattress life is eight to ten years. If you’ve noticed that you sleep uncomrtably on your existing mattress and pillow, it may be time to replace them. If you suffer from allergies, make sure your linen is washed regularly in water that is hot enough to kill the allergens.
5. Learn more about sleep issues Take this interactive quiz from the National Institutes of Health to see how much you know about sleep problems. If you think you may have a sleep disorder, be sure to see your doctor.
Nights are longer this time of year, but it can still be difficult for nurses to feel well-rested and alert on winter mornings. By following these suggestions, you can help your body wind down at night, feel comfortable and get the rest it needs.
See Our Champions of Nursing Diversity
Sign up now to get your free digital subscription to Minority Nurse