Winding Down After the Nightshift

10 Tips for Better Sleep

Sleep is essential to everyone’s well-being. Sounds simple enough, right? Get ready for bed, climb in, and catch those important Z’s. Not so fast. If you work the nightshift, sleep is more complicated. Working nights, means you have to try and sleep during the day—when the majority of the world is out and about enjoying the sunshine.

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), “The way you feel while you are awake depends in part on what happens while you are sleeping. During sleep, your body is working to support healthy brain function and maintain your physical health.” Not getting enough sleep, “sleep deficiency,” can interfere with just about everything—work, school, driving, and social interaction. As a result, tiredness can make learning a struggle, focusing difficult, and experiencing decreased reaction times is quite common. NIH research also shows that sleep deficiency also can make you feel unusually frustrated, cranky, or worried in social situations. And, “sleep deficiency is linked to many chronic health problems, including heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and depression.”

Lack of sleep is not good for anyone, and it’s especially troublesome for travelers. It’s not uncommon for travelers to pick up the nightshift while on assignment. So, in addition to adjusting to a new home and work environment, travelers have to sleep at odd hours. What’s more, nurses must always be alert, decisive, and calm to be effective—these are some of the first attributes to be compromised when you don’t get enough sleep.

Take time to appreciate your personal need for rest and sleep, and be sure you make it a priority. Understand that your needs will be different than your colleagues. There is no one size fits all. Here are some mainstream (and a few unexpected) helpful hints to relax and unwind after the nightshift.

1. Sleep inducing foods

It’s seems natural that you would avoid food and drinks with caffeine if you want to sleep, but did you know there are several foods that can help encourage slumber?

  • Tart cherry juice- tart cherries are a natural source of melatonin, which is a sleep-regulating hormone.
  • Walnuts- another great source of melatonin.
  • Kiwi fruit -contains serotonin, a brain chemical that helps regulate your sleep cycle.
  • Milk and turkey contain a type of protein called tryptophan which helps the body produce sleep hormones.

2. Create a dark space

Be sure your sleeping area blocks out as much natural light as possible to help you fall asleep faster. Blackout curtains are an economical option that you can take with you on each assignment. If hanging proves complicated, try using close pins over the existing window treatment.

3. Calming and sleep apps

Simply search the App Store on any smartphone and you will be greeted with numerous choices for relaxation. These apps offer everything from lullabies, to nature sounds, to voice narrated meditation.

4. Sleeping mask, gloves, and socks

This is a can’t miss trio that will help signal to your body that it’s time for rest. The warmth on your hands and feet increases blood circulation, lowering your core body temperature and letting your brain know it’s sleep time. A soothing mask (try a lavender scent) will keep out any disturbing light as well as encourage you to keep your eyes shut.

5. Herbal tea

Herbal teas have been used as natural sleep remedies for centuries, thanks to their natural ability to reduce insomnia, stress, and anxiety. Here are few believed to promote sleep:

  • Chamomile tea
  • Magnolia tea
  • Lavender tea
  • Green tea (minimum caffeine)

6. Ida Breathing

Yoga practices show breathing primarily through the left nostril activates Ida Nadi which is believed to reduce stress and promote relaxation. It also activates the sympathetic or ‘rest and digest’ part of the nervous system. This lowers blood pressure and body temperature; calms stress levels and reduces anxiety. See how here.

7. Allow for screen downtime

Screens and monitors are terrific stimuli and can wreak havoc on sleep patterns. After a long shift, try to resist the temptation of diving into social media, watching TV or surfing funny videos on your phone. Give your brain and eyes some time to unplug before going to bed.

8. Keep it quiet

While there are certainly benefits of white noise and meditation type audio options, some people sleep best when it is quiet. This can be especially challenging if you live in a busy city with traffic and street noises, or have loud neighbors and barking dogs nearby. Try a pair of noise blocking earplugs. These can be a tremendous help to creating a peaceful environment. One caveat, be sure your alarm is loud enough to wake you! Browse some options here.

9. Caffeinate wisely

Chances are you like a strong cup of coffee or energy drink to start your shift. However, too much caffeine close to going home could make it almost impossible to fall asleep. Try to limit, or eliminate, intake close to quitting time. And watch out for hidden caffeine—did you know chocolate, hot chocolate, orange soda, some granola bars, certain pain relievers, and coffee ice cream all contain some caffeine?

10. Seek medical advice

If you have tried a number of promising tricks to sleep after the nightshift and you still can’t catch enough Z’s, it makes sense to talk to your doctor. Get professional medical recommendations if prescription or over-the-counter sleep aids are appropriate. Be sure to follow all instructions and take only as directed.  

As a traveler, nightshift work will likely be a necessity. For some nurses, this is a welcomed schedule that they have become accustomed to over time. For others, it feels like the struggle might never end. Take time to focus on creating a healthy sleep pattern just as you give attention to diet and exercise. Even if sleep is during non-traditional hours, good sleep any time of day improves overall well-being. Studies have shown that good sleep can maximize problem-solving skills and enhance memory. Whereas poor sleep has been shown to impair brain function, decision making skills and can lead to medical errors. Protect yourself, your patients, and your career with proper sleep habits while pulling the nightshift. We are here for you. For helpful tips and articles, explore our blog page, where you can find valuable information to enhance your travel experience.