Are you getting enough sleep?

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Sleep is important for everyone. But for nurses and other healthcare workers, who can cause serious injury to others if they are careless for even a moment, it is even more important.

But how are you supposed to get enough when you’re switching from a morning shift to an afternoon shift to a night shift? You come home and the sun is shining, cars driving by, people talking and dogs barking. You arrive home, have breakfast, greet your family, then head to the bedroom, draw the curtains and go to bed. All the while your body clock is thinking ‘what the heck is going on?!’

All adults require seven to eight hours of quality sleep each night. Sleeping during the day is not as restorative as night sleep.

Nightshift workers, especially those with unpredictable shifts, rarely get the amount of sleep they need.

There are numerous suggestions for helping nightshift workers sleep better but do any of these really work?

  • Wear sunglasses on the way home from work. It signals to your brain that your shift is over.
  • Nap during your lunch break. Studies indicate that just twenty to thirty minutes of sleep can make you more alert.
  • Limit your caffeine and only consume in the first four hours that you are awake.

Do you think these tips work? Or is sleeping well during the day just something you have to get used too?

How much depends on the individual? I have two family members that regularly work nursing night shifts. One swaps back and forth between morning, afternoon and night and always feels like a ‘zombie’ even after having a decent sleep; the other works nightshift four nights a week, every week, and can sleep anywhere at the drop of a hat and wake up completely alert and ready to go. She has no problem sleeping at night on her nights off either.

So what’s the difference? Is that the ‘routine’ that makes the difference? Or does it depend on the individual?

We would love to hear your thoughts!

10 COMMENTS

  1. Hi, I have worked permanent night shift for years and I think the key to getting a good sleep is to make your room as dark as you can and eliminate background noise as much as possible.I also put a do not disturb note on the front door.I have blockout blinds on my window and turn a fan on in the room which creates good “white noise”. I average 6 hours sleep during the day and always go back to bed at 7 for maybe another hours sleep before work. Hope this helps.

  2. I find I am the most fatigued after doing a late/early, I don’t mind nights, especially in winter as it is lovely and cold during the day so its easy to sleep, I find night shift in summer the worst as it is often just too hot during the day to sleep properly, especially if you don’t have aircon and want to shut out the sun so its dark… I am lucky though as even though I have a young daughter, I am still able to get enough sleep thanks to a combination of a shift working husband and grand parents living nearby.. if it wasn’t for that, I would go insane on night shift!
    I agree with wearing sunglasses while travelling home from night shift, I find as soon as I step outside the building with my sunnies on my body relaxes and starts to think of sleep.. I generally don’t drink coffee on night shift after 4am as I find it harder to sleep if I do, I also take in my knitting to help me stay awake on night shift if it is quiet to keep me entertained once I have finished all my paperwork etc..

  3. I get no rest on night shift because I live on a busy road;150m from a primary school and have noisy neighbours. Despite living next to a shift worker he seems to not care that he is making enough noise to wake the dead. My crappy rental is fibro so no noise barrier there. I worked over time nighshifts recently and my neighbour erected a carport next to my bedroom then came and rang my doorbell after I had finally gotten to sleep to ask a question about the fence! I cannot wait to leave here I am chronically exhausted. I can’t not work nights we must all do rotating shifts where I work. We have no permanent night staff any more.

  4. I can usually sleep pretty well despite doing rotating shifts. I do though have a routine when coming home from nights that seems to help. I do not eat before bed or drink (don’t want to wake up to wee) and I do not have a shower before bed as I find this wakes me up.
    I walk in the front door, get straight into my pj’s, turn on the fan (so I don’t wake up hot at midday when the sun hits my room) and then go to the bathroom and then straight to bed. I have the tv on with the timer set and I am usually asleep within minutes.
    I average 6-8 sleeps which is enough and I tend not to take a break to sleep at work.

  5. I was working 5 days a week of 16-hour shifts (3pm to 7.30am) for many years, and sometimes 6. Sleep became 2-3 hours when I had any, but I got used to it, so when I lie down, sleep is within minutes, and even one hour sleep seems enough.
    Don’t get tired driving the 100km back to work, and never tired at work. Interesting to watch all those who can’t survive without a break on the night shift, while I roam the halls and visit friends in other wards during my break.
    I do drink cups and cups of ice cubes through the night, and take 2 cups of ice to suck on during the drive home, which keeps me fully awake. By ‘ICE’ I DO mean frozen water!

  6. I’ve heard a few people mention the ‘ice’ thing…. interesting. I haven’t tried it, back I’m a coffee person myself.

    Bernhard, I think some Uni. PHDs want to study you !!!!

    I thought I’d been there / done that too. But hey! You do have to sleep at some stage…..

    I’m currently driving 87 kms. each way from / to home. If i get tired, I simply pull over, and sleep in the car for as long as it takes.

    It maybe controversial, but I agree with the premise of a night shift worker has a right to a ‘sleep’ break, it you want it.

    I’ve worked in places ( in nursing ) where a three (3) hour break was the norm. The first business of the night, was to work out who was taking 12 – 3am, and who was taking 3 – 6am. Four of us on the ward, with two off, things still went OK. If things got rough, you recall you guys off on break. It always worked. It also kept people on night shift.

    Other wards / hospitals have this ‘old school’ NO SLEEPING policy. even on a non paid break, you still can’t put your head down, much less than stretch out on a sofa somewhere.

    I’m sure the academics agreed, that an hours sleep during night shift was a very good thing. It could make the difference between having to have a sleep on the side of the road, or at worse, not make it home at all after work !!

  7. I work at least four nights a month and find that if I get my MUM to split them two and two I survive them way better only having to really sleep for one whole day and then knowing on my second night that this is it. Our unit does have an unspoken ‘no sleeping’ policy, however there have been times when we have each taken a turn to have a short nap and I find at these times that I can drive home without any microsleeps. Then there are the nights where you just don’t stop like last night playing pass the crying baby. I do love my job but a cure for nights that would be Nobel Prize winning stuff!!

  8. Bernhard….those were seriously long shifts, I take my hat off to you.I can only say I wish the ice trick worked for me (I have sensitive teeth so didn’t enjoy this experiment) for me it didn’t work at all…my co worker also tried it with no benefit.I find 4am deadly if I dont keep moving.

  9. I’m seriously starting to think, after 19 years at this shift work, that I should have done a different degree. If I don’t get at least 4 hours before a night (10hr) shift and then at least 6 hours after I can’t function very well. Now I have a four year old and am juggling childcare as well as sleep it all seems too hard.

  10. SLEEP? OMG as Joe Hockey slashes $$$s from Westmead Hospital, as announced in todays paper. Liberals don’t like unions PERIOD so best to slash cut reduce and thus hope NSWNMA will suffer membership losses.

    You only have to see him in action at Question Time ranting over past matters in Health. It was the now Hon Tony Abbott MP PM who reduced doctor training and that caused shortfalls around Australia.

    I support workers rights and our Union system. Even in today’s paper they are slashing TAFE courses for tradespersons. So some ward fix-up won’t get done? No trades to fix it; but we nurses are supposed or expected to fix everything…no questions asked.

    What do you think about this? Cheers Ken

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