How Nurses Can Get Better Sleep (and Improve Heart Health at the Same Time) 4307

How Nurses Can Get Better Sleep (and Improve Heart Health at the Same Time)

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Sleep may feel like a reward, especially after working a 12-hour shift. But it’s more than just a luxury. Sleep plays a critical role in how your body repairs itself and functions. Not getting enough can be detrimental to your health — particularly your heart health.
 

How Sleep Affects Heart Health
The American Heart Association recently added sleep as one of Life’s Essential 8 — a collection of critical measures that improve and maintain cardiovascular health. Adults who sleep less than 7 hours each night are more likely to have high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and obesity — all of which are major risk factors for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

Poor sleep can also lead to unhealthy choices. Without a good night’s sleep, you may be more likely to eat higher-calorie foods, indulge in caffeine or alcohol, and skip daily exercise. If these unhealthy choices turn into habits, your heart health may suffer.

Tips for Getting More (or Regular) Sleep as a Nurse
Getting quality sleep — and enough of it — is not easy for nurses, especially if you work the night shift. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

Just ask #healthynurses Katie Carroll, BSN, RN, CHC, CPT, and Nicole Vienneau, MSN, RN, NC-BC. Katie works 12-hour shifts as a staff nurse at Robert Wood Johnson (RWJ) Barnabas Health, and Nicole coaches nurses at Blue Monarch Health to help them recognize and address burnout.

Katie and Nicole understand the importance of sleep and make it a priority in their lives. They offer 5 tips to help you get better sleep:
 
  1. Recognize your need for restorative sleep
The first step toward improving your sleep is acknowledging that you aren’t getting enough now. The average adult should get 7 to 9 hours of sleep to feel good and have the best health outcomes. If you aren’t getting the recommended amount, Nicole suggests asking yourself, “What am I trying to accomplish for myself when I don’t prioritize sleep?”

“You likely wouldn’t try to keep a baby up late or force your grandma to binge on Netflix till the wee hours,” Nicole says. “Treating yourself with the kindness and care you’d give to others is a loving way to recognize your need for restorative rest.”
 
  1. Schedule your sleep
Shift work makes getting regular sleep challenging. But scheduling your sleep each week according to your work schedule can help you get to sleep on time. It’s been helpful for Katie, who works 3, 12-hour shifts between Monday and Friday.

“I prioritize sleep by looking at my week ahead, knowing what days I'm working. I plan on winding my evenings down in a manner that gets me to bed around 9:00 or 9:30 p.m.,” Katie says. “Planning out my week in advance on a Sunday or a Monday and using my time wisely during the days helps me to get to sleep at the time I know will be best for me.” 
 
  1. Practice good sleep hygiene
              Good sleep habits (often called “sleep hygiene”) help you fall asleep faster at bedtime and get quality, uninterrupted sleep. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) recommends you: 
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and food within 4 hours of bedtime: Having alcohol, sugar, or caffeine in your system can disrupt quality sleep.
  • Be consistent with sleep and wake times: Stick as closely as possible to a sleep schedule (even on weekends) to help set your internal body clock.
  • Create an environment conducive to sleep: Keep your room relaxing, dark, and cool at bedtime to make falling (and staying) asleep easier. 
  • Reserve your bed for sleep-related activities: Using electronics (phone, computer, or TV) away from bed signals to your body that when you enter the bedroom at night, it’s time to sleep.

Nicole practices these sleep habits. She also purchased the nicest linens she could afford to make her bed more inviting. “I’m not perfect every time,” Nicole says. “But allowing sleep to be a sacred thing has opened up possibilities to rest and sleep better.”
 
  1. Take care of your mental health
Research shows that 30% to 45% of nurses live with depression, anxiety, or stress — conditions that can affect sleep quality. “Some of the suffering and traumas we witness as nurses can cause anxiety and difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep,” says Nicole. “It is difficult to ‘turn it all off’ just because it is time to sleep.”

Try to find an activity that boosts your mental health, such as meditating, journaling, or working on a craft or project. Katie turns to exercise. “Working out helps me manage my stress and anxiety — my workouts are my therapy,” she says. Katie’s workouts also give her a reason to prioritize sleep. “If I don't get good sleep and let my body rest and recover from my workouts, I am doing more damage than good.” 
 
  1. Speak up about what you need
              If you realize that your schedule or sleep situation is not working for you, you may need to make some changes. And those changes may involve asking for help.
             
Katie’s shift earlier last year went from 11:00 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. The timing didn’t work for her, and the effects took their toll. “I was extremely tired on my days off, and I was thrown off physically, mentally, and emotionally,” Katie says. “I spoke up to my management about working this shift and sought help in trying to alter my schedule.” Her strategy worked, and she was switched to a different shift.

The Daily Impact of Sleep
Getting good sleep is critical for heart health. But it will also help you shine each day. “As I’ve gracefully aged, I’ve recognized how important sleep is for clarity, my mood, my patience, and my organization,” Nicole says. “I now see sleep as a time to prepare, restore, and repair my body.”

Katie couldn’t agree more. “I know my body and brain need rest and healing time if I want to feel my best and get what I need to get done during my days,” she says.

How do you manage your work schedule and sleep? We’d love to hear what works for you. Share with us in this discussion.


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Blog Rest 01/20/2023 8:31am CST

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Rest breaks and healthy sleep are not only restorative - but are key to your health and to providing safe patient care. This domain addresses strategies and guidelins for restorative sleep, workplace breaks and napping, and managing shift work.