Healthy sleep improves our personal health and ability to work productively and safely. To maintain healthy sleep habits (also called sleep hygiene), we must control the factors that can interfere with sleep. Sleep interference can result from both behavioral and environmental factors. Behavioral factors are choices a person makes that affect sleep, such as caffeine use, diet, and exercise. Environmental factors are external and include noise, temperature,
light, stress, work schedules, length of commute, and family and social obligations.
Most nurses who work shifts or long hours are familiar with sleep interference. Working the night shift is especially disruptive because it goes against our natural sleep-wake cycle. Despite these challenges, though, you can follow the tips below to improve both the quality and length of sleep.
An estimated 50 to 70 million people in the United States suffer from sleep disorders. For them, even the best coping strategies may not help. If you have ongoing trouble falling or staying
asleep and it’s affecting your alertness at work or while driving, consult your healthcare professional.
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Jaime Murphy Dawson is senior policy analyst in the ANA Department for Health, Safety, and Wellness.
Make sleep a priority. Sleep is a necessity, not a luxury. Ask your partner or spouse and other family members to help by encouraging you to sleep and not disturbing you when you’re sleeping. If necessary, remind them that sleep will keep you healthy, reduce stress, and help you do your job safely.
Establish a routine. Having a consistent, peaceful bedtime routine prepares your mind and body for sleep. Your routine may involve taking a warm bath, reading, journaling, or listening to soothing music. Reducing stress and unwinding from the day will help you fall asleep faster and
achieve a better quality of sleep.
Eat a healthy diet. Avoid heavy or spicy foods before bedtime. If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation and stop drinking a few hours before you go to bed. While alcohol causes drowsiness, it may disturb your sleep and cause you to awaken sooner.
Sleep in a dark, quiet, cool room. A good sleep environment makes a difference. If you sleep during the day, keep your bedroom as dark as possible by using room-darkening curtains
or shades or wearing an eye mask. Use a white noise machine or wear earplugs to create a quiet environment. Make sure your room is at an optimal sleeping temperature.
Reduce screen time. Light and noise from televisions, smartphones, and tablets are stimulating and can make it harder for you to fall asleep. To avoid temptation, recharge electronic devices outside your bedroom so they’re not within arm’s reach.
Use caffeine in moderation. The half-life of caffeine is 5 to 6 hours, even longer for some people. So if you drink caffeinated beverages at work, do so only at the beginning of your shift. That way, the caffeine will be out of your system when you’re ready to sleep.
Time your exercise right. Body temperature starts to dip when it’s time for sleep and stays lower while we sleep. Generally, 20 to 30 minutes of vigorous exercise 5 to 6 hours before bedtime raises body temperature for a few hours, and then leads to a temperature dip that’s ideal for sleeping. Timing is important: exercising too close to bedtime can cause difficulty falling asleep as it stimulates the heart, muscles, and brain.
Turn down the lights. Light is the primary factor influencing circadian rhythms (the body process that regulates periods of alertness and fatigue throughout the day). Bright light increases alertness. Turning off or dimming lights 1 to 2 hours before going to bed can promote sleepiness.