8 Essential Sleep Tips for Shift Workers

8 Essential Sleep Tips for Shift Workers

Working nights? You’re certainly not alone. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 15 million Americans work a permanent night shift or regularly rotate in and out of night shifts.

If you’re working nights, you’ve probably heard warnings about how your alternative schedule could negatively affect your health and well-being.

But your schedule is your schedule and perhaps you can’t change it right now, or perhaps you don’t want to. With that in mind, let’s live in the nocturnal moment and talk about ways you can get better sleep and make the most of the work-life balance you’ve got.

1. Jump-start your night.

As night falls, get some exercise, expose yourself to bright light, and take a hot shower – each of these tricks can help you to feel alert and ready to take on the world.

2. Time your caffeine.

Drinking a cup of coffee at the beginning of your shift will help promote alertness. But don’t consume caffeine for the last 4 to 6 hours of your shift or it may be harder to get to sleep when you get home.

3. Block out and black out.

Just because the sun is coming up when you’re heading home to bed, doesn’t mean you have to take any notice. Wear dark, wrap-around sunglasses to block the morning rays that can wake you up. Keep those glasses on until you’re in the dark sanctity of your blackout-curtained bedroom. Blackout curtains are a must because, even if your eyes are closed, sunlight in your room rouses you. Add earplugs and an eye cover and your sleep is covered.

4. Avoid alcohol.

A glass of wine or beer may help you fall asleep, but you’ll likely pay for it later as alcohol disturbs the second half of your sleep. Go with grandma’s advice and sip warm milk instead.

5. Step away from that device.

Smartphones, tablets, and computers (as well as energy efficient light bulbs) all emit blue light that boosts wakefulness – not great when you’re hoping to catch some z’s. If possible, avoid using devices for one hour before you’d like to fall asleep. Charting until the last moment? Try blue-light-blocking or “sleep” glasses. Yes, you’ll look a little funny during hand-off, but isn’t sleep worth it?

6. Try melatonin (but not so much)!

Whoa, that melatonin in your medicine cabinet is 5mg per dose. Research in the journal Work shows you only need about 0.3mg to fall asleep faster. So grab a pill cutter, trim those tablets, sleep better, and save yourself money to boot. Older shift workers may particularly benefit from taking melatonin as the body’s natural melatonin production lessens with age. Quick review: the pineal gland in your brain produces melatonin in response to darkness – it’s a biological marker of night and makes sleep inviting.

7. Create rituals.

Tell your body it’s time to sleep with calming, soothing habits. Read a book, listen to soft music, or gently stretch. Write down things that are worrying you and tell yourself you are setting them aside while you rest.

8. Use your nose.

There is evidence that certain smells can improve sleep. Lavender, for instance, can decrease heart rate and blood pressure, potentially putting you in a more tranquil state. Vanilla, valerian, and jasmine are other possibly soporific options. If you enjoy scents, try soaps, lotions, or oils to find what works for you.

There you have it: 8 tips for the Holy Grail of sleep – those blissful 8 hours. Hope to see you in dreamland.

Big thank you to the National Sleep Foundation, the American Psychological Association, and the peer-reviewed journals Work and Sleep Medicine Clinics for the useful resources that informed this blog.

Can Coffee Help Avoid Holiday Weight Gain?

Can Coffee Help Avoid Holiday Weight Gain?

Welcome to the holiday season—a time for treats in the break room, holiday parties, cookie exchanges, and festive family meals. Sounds fun, but too often all this merriment prevents weight loss and leads to weight gain. Even worse, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, most people NEVER lose the pounds they put on over the winter holidays. Which mean’s it’s much better to avoid gaining them in the first place.

Could coffee and other caffeinated beverages help?

Order yourself a nonfat full-caf latte and read on because the research is promising.

  • According to the Mayo Clinic, caffeine can reduce your desire to eat in the short term—perhaps helping you to avoid those calorie-dense finger foods and buying you time to find a healthy alternative.
  • If you actually fit in a workout this holiday season, researchers from Japan suggest adding caffeine to your pre-workout preparations. Their results, published in Clinical Physiology and Functional Imaging, show that caffeine consumption (about two cups of strong coffee) before exercise promotes more fat burning.
  • A study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who lose weight and manage to keep it off tend to drink significantly more coffee than the general population.

Of course, we wouldn’t be nurses if we didn’t consider the potential pitfalls of too much caffeine. Rest assured that 83% of adults in the United States are already drinking coffee and experts say that when used in moderation (400 milligrams or less per day, about the equivalent of four cups of coffee) caffeine is generally safe. But too much can, as you know, cause nervousness, insomnia, and other problems. If you’re new to caffeine, please let me know how you made it through nursing school. But seriously, if you’ve generally abstained until now, start slow and see how your body reacts.

Meanwhile, in the coffee shop, remember that those fancy holiday brews (like gingerbread cookie lattes, mint mochas, and eggnog decadence) can come with a hefty calorie count (not to mention the price tag!). Stick with the classics to avoid negating any potential caffeine benefits.

Now, please pass me my mug. It’s time for a coffee break.