How to Sleep Better: 10 Tips for Nurses

How to Sleep Better: 10 Tips for Nurses

By Jennifer Larson, contributor

You work hard as a nurse. You’re tired. And you need to figure out how to sleep better. 

But how?

Holly Carpenter, BSN, RN, interim director of program operations for nursing practice and innovations for the American Nursing Association (ANA), can tick off a list of reasons nurses might not get enough healthy sleep.

“Rotating shifts, on-call positions, overtime, long work hours, night shift issues, such as trying to sleep during the day—sunlight, noise, etc.” she said.

Sleep is definitely a tricky issue for night shift nurses. In fact, it’s challenging for most nurses. 

Many nurses struggle to maintain a healthy work–life balance, which includes getting the appropriate amount of sleep. So making sleep a priority is critical.

“The benefits of obtaining sufficient, high-quality sleep are so significant that they cannot be overstated,” said Natalie Dautovich, PhD, environmental scholar for the National Sleep Foundation

“From better cognitive functioning, mood and productivity to decreased risk for multiple health conditions including decreased mortality rates, the effects of prioritizing sleep will positively impact most areas of your life,” Dautovich said.

Nurses also have their patients to think about. Day, evening and night shift nurses alike need to be well rested and at their best to provide high quality patient care. 

RELATED: The Signs (and Dangers) of a Sleepy Nurse

10 tips for nurses to get better sleep:

1. Establish a consistent routine. 

Create a sleep-wake schedule that works for you—and stick to it!

Decide what time you will go to bed each day and what time you plan to wake up. Try not to deviate very much from your schedule, and your body will become accustomed to it. 

2. Ask people not to disturb you. 

This is especially important if you have a hard time falling asleep, or falling back asleep after being awakened. And if you are working the night shift, you may need to remind family members or roommates not to bother you when you’re sleeping during the day. 

Turn off the ringer on your phone or turn on the “Do not disturb” setting. If you sleep during the daytime hours, consider putting a “Don’t ring the doorbell” sign on your front door.  

3. Make your bedroom sleep-friendly. 

Does the sun peep through the blinds and wake you up long before your alarm clock buzzes? Hang some blackout curtains and keep the room dark as long as you need to sleep. 

More sleep tips for nurses: keep the temperature cool, as a cooler room is more conducive to a good night’s sleep, and use a sound machine to block out noise, Dautovich suggested. 

4. Skip the nightcap. 

Sure, a glass of wine might make you feel sleepy. But sleep experts advise avoiding alcohol before bedtime. 

Drinking alcohol can actually decrease the quality of your sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Alcohol disrupts your circadian rhythms and can affect your REM sleep. You’re more likely to wake up in the middle of the night—or wake up before your body and your brain have gotten the rest that they need. 

5. Forego the electronics before bed.

Do you typically hop into bed and start pecking away at your smartphone or tablet? You may be sabotaging your own sleep. Studies have shown that even small electronic devices emit enough light to miscue the brain and promote wakefulness.

“Try reducing or eliminating your screen time an hour prior to bedtime,” suggested Carpenter. 

6. Limit your caffeine intake to daytime hours (or earlier in your night shift).

Caffeine is a stimulant, and the last thing you need before trying to get a good 7-9 hours of sleep is to consume a substance that will keep you awake. 

So aim to drink your coffee or tea earlier in the day—or evening, if you are a night shift nurse.

7. Nap strategically. 

“Strategically use naps to increase alertness during the day,” suggested Dautovich. That might mean napping during mid-afternoon instead of later in the day, or timing your naps to be either less than 20 minutes or at least 60-90 minutes in length.

Another tip for nurses: don’t assume you can’t nap during your 12-hour shifts. Some hospitals allow day and night shift nurses to nap during their breaks, so don’t be afraid to ask.

8. Run, walk or dance. 

“Make exercise and physical activity a regular part of your day,” said Carpenter. 

Exercise can promote better sleeping, but if you find that exercising close to your sleeping time leaves you too keyed up to fall asleep, adjust your workout time accordingly. 

9. Step outside each morning.

That early-morning light can help your body’s internal clock work like it should.

“Increase the contrast between day and night by being active during the day and spending some time in the early portion of the day in bright light,” said Dautovich. 

10. Find a wind-down ritual that works for you. 

Every nurse is different, so take the time to find an activity that calms you down and helps you unwind from a busy, stressful day (or night). It might be a warm bath, a good book or a few minutes of quiet meditation. 

You can also ask your colleagues about their tips for nurses on how to sleep better. Undoubtedly, some will have a few strategies that have worked for them. 

It’s definitely worthwhile to determine what works for you. After all, as Carpenter said, “Sleep is vital for everyone’s health, safety and wellness.”

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