For nurses juggling long shifts and families, finding the time for self care can be a difficult task. Exercise, reading and sleeping are common ways to relax when stress gets overwhelming.
Photo: ajc.com
Photo: ajc.com

5 better sleep tips from a sleep clinic nurse practitioner

"Let her sleep, for when she awakens, she will move mountains."

When Robyn Woidtke MSN, RN, RPSGT shared her favorite sleep-related quote with SleepApnea.org, you could tell she's a nurse.

» RELATED: Sleep tips for nurses working into the wee hours

Members of the nursing profession push obstacles out of the way constantly. But pay attention to the other half of that saying from Shakespeare. Because even nurses need enough sleep to outperform the rest of the work force. More and more studies are weighing in on the health benefits of sleep. Science has also observed something called Shift Work Sleep Disorder that causes insomnia and excessive sleepiness among those who work different shifts or work at night, like many nurses.

And the American Academy of Sleep Medicine is not letting up on its recommendation (okay, it's more like a warning if you don't) that adults get seven or more hours of sleep to avoid health risks. The downsides of continual sleep deprivation for nurses and most other adults can include increased risk of substance abuse, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and metabolic problems, along with compromising safety behind the wheel or at work.

» RELATED: Rough night? Veteran nurses on how to bounce back after a tough shift

Here's the wild thing, though. Nurses are intent on moving mountains to provide the best care for patients, but they can tend to avoid taking the same advice themselves. In the hope of working around this tendency for nurses to forgo sound sleep, a sleep medicine expert who's also a nurse practitioner will share tips for his fellow nurses. Nurse practitioner John D. Cary earned his BSN from The Medical College of Georgia in 2000, his MSN four years later and joined Athens Pulmonary Critical Care and Sleep Medicine in 2005.

He has a wife with her own demanding schedule (she's a physician's assistant in women's health) and three young sons living at home, so he has first-hand knowledge of the challenges of getting good sleep while balancing work and family life. And he came up working night shift in the ER, so he's not going to lecture you about the evils of pounding caffeine on occasion. (Although he does advise against filling up on sodas and junk food late in your shift if you expect to sleep well later.)

But his experience at work has taught him that what works for patients can also work to improve a nurse's sleeping habits.

» RELATED: The 5 most common signs of nursing burnout

Here are his five top ways that nurses can get better sleep:

Let the day go when the day is done.

Part of the trick to falling asleep is turning your brain off before you settle in for the night. This is more and more difficult for nurses as the nurse-to-patient ratio dwindles, says Cary. "When you've been taking care of sick patients, sometimes a lot of them, it can be hard to turn your brain off when you get home. It's so easy to just keep thinking about what you're going to do the next time you go in, but you have to call a halt."

Create a sleep routine.

Not so easy, Cary acknowledges. But essential. "It's all part of what we call 'sleep hygiene,'" he says. "And it's essential when you're trying to begin some better sleep habits. You need a routine where you get in the bed (at) the same time every day, even on weekends. And try to turn off the outside world. Even though I know as the father of three boys that sometimes that's nearly impossible."

Use headphones.

This works both ways, says Cary. If you work odd hours and are watching television or using electronics with an audio component, it's important to wear earphones so as not to disturb the rest of the family. But if you're the one trying to sleep while others have a family movie night or catch up on their favorite television series, it's a good idea to ask them to use earphones so you can doze in peace.

Try not to eat late at night.

When you eat right before bed or within a few hours of turning in, that fuel turns into energy that can keep you up late at night.

Close your windows.

The last thing you want is bright sunlight waking you up before your time. 

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