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No, You Can’t ‘Make Up’ Lost Sleep: 8 Tips to Get More Before Work

When nurses don’t get enough rest, the implications are greater than for other professionals.

From the unusual hours to the patients whose stories stay with you, the nature of healthcare can make it hard to get a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, when clinicians don’t get enough rest, the implications are greater than for other professionals. That’s why a new study recently published in Sleep Health explored the nature of nurses’ sleep, looking closely at the difference between work days and days off.

What Did the Study Find?

Through self-reported data from two studies from 2015 and 2016, researchers found that nurses, on average, got less than seven hours of sleep (414 minutes) the night before a workday compared to more than eight hours (497 minutes) the night before a non-workday. The average difference was almost 1.5 hours.

“Nurses are sleeping, on average, less than recommended amounts prior to work, which may have an impact on their health and performance on the job,” said Amy Witkoski Stimpfel, Ph.D., RN, assistant professor at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing and the study’s lead author, in a statement.

More specifically, researchers noted that getting less sleep was associated with lower measures of patient safety and quality of care, which has implications for individual nurses and organizations. Therefore, RNs should commit to getting eight hours of sleep the night before a shift, and employers should resolve any issues, such as staffing shortages, that can result in overworked nurses and compromise patient safety.

Can You ‘Catch Up’ on Sleep?

The short answer, according to Dr. Witkoski Stimpfel, is no.

“Research on chronic partial sleep deprivation in healthy adults shows that after several days of not getting enough sleep, more than one day of ‘recovery sleep’ — or more than 10 hours in bed — may be needed to return to baseline functioning,” she said. “But considering a nurse’s schedule, which often involves consecutive 12-hour shifts and may only offer one or two days off between shifts, the risk of complete recovery, or ‘catching up,’ is low.”

Tips To Get More Sleep Before Work

That means, for nurses and patients alike, eight hours a night, especially before shifts, is crucial. So here are some strategies for getting your Zzzs back from American Nurse Today.

  • Tell others to respect your sleeping time. The demands of a family never truly stop, but they can pause when you’re sleeping with a gentle reminder.
  • Establish a routine, ideally one that helps you destress. This signals to your body that it’s time for bed and makes you more relaxed.
  • Make good food choices. Avoid foods that cause discomfort and alcohol before bedtime.
  • Create a peaceful environment. Especially if you’re working nights, blackout curtains, eye masks, and white noise machines are a must-have. Keep your room at a comfortable temperature.
  • Leave electronics outside your bedroom. The light from devices like smartphones disrupts your body’s circadian rhythm and delays melatonin production.
  • Only drink caffeine during the beginning of work. For most people, the effects of caffeine tend to last at least five hours, so avoid it for the last few hours of the workday.
  • Don’t exercise too close to bedtime because it stimulates your heart, muscles, and brain. Exercising five to six hours before bed is ideal.
  • Turn down your lights. To sync your circadian rhythm with your plans to sleep soon, dim the lights one to two hours before bedtime.
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