Avoiding Sleep Deprivation: 5 Tips to Stay Awake and Refreshed
By Aaron Moore, MSN, RN-BC, travel nurse expert
I’ve seen a lot of articles recently about the importance of sleep and the dangers of sleep deprivation. Nurses especially know through experience that running on little or no sleep will catch up to you. Driving tired is a bad idea. Working tired puts patients at risk and can get you in trouble. Even doing something you enjoy when you are overtired means you might fall asleep and miss the good part.
There is just a huge difference between a sleepy nurse and one who is well-rested, or between an energetic nurse and one experiencing nurse fatigue.
And it’s not about what shift you work. If you don’t currently work nights at your job, don’t skip out on an awesome travel assignment just because it’s night shift only. With a few simple life adjustments, you can be a productive “day walker” as I used to refer to myself.
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Below are some tips I have learned over the years to avoid sleep deprivation and keep you up and ready to go for a long shift, whether it be night or day.
1. Drink plenty of water. Studies show that staying hydrated can help you focus and stay awake (and take more trips to the bathroom). I’ve always found this to be true. I worked nights for 10 years and always had that lull around 4 or 5 a.m. that no coffee or energy drink could cure. But when I started drinking 2 liters of water each night, I found this went away.
2. Consider melatonin. This is a hormone found naturally in the body. Melatonin used as medicine is usually made synthetically in a laboratory. Melatonin is not a sleeping pill. Many people will find that it doesn’t help them fall or stay asleep any better than just trying to go to bed, but for those who work strange hours or may be experiencing jet lag, it can really help get your body ready to sleep when it’s not the normal time most people go to bed. If you work nights, chat with your doctor or a local pharmacist about what might be right for you.
3. Use caffeine in moderation. Studies have shown coffee can be a healthy part of one’s diet. How much? Many experts suggest 400 to 450 milligrams of caffeine a day; that’s equal to 3-5 cups of regular coffee. So watch your java intake and read that label on your energy drink to make sure you’re getting the right amount. Remember, there is such a thing as “too much of a good thing.”
4. Exercise before sleep. I always found that working out before going to bed after a night shift made me real tired. (Duh!) Seriously though, studies show that exercise can help you get to sleep faster and stay asleep. So take a walk, go for a run or pump some iron at the gym in your awesome apartment complex and you might just sleep a little better--night or day.
5. Schedule sleep. Finally, you just need good, natural sleep and on some sort of a schedule. This really should go without saying: don’t push your body too hard, or it might push back. You don’t want to spend your days off sick and sleeping in bed. As a travel nurse in a new hometown, you want to be fresh enough to explore it and take advantage of your time off.
So avoid that third or fourth drink at happy hour, don’t binge-watch your favorite streaming media before bed, and don’t put off that truly important nap before you start your long stretch of night shifts. Take care of yourself so you can stay energized, avoid sleep deprivation and enjoy the adventure that is travel nursing.
[Find more information at the National Sleep Foundation.]