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8 Tips for Nurses Who Have Trouble Sleeping

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In order to take proper care of your patients at work and family at home, nurses, doctors and other medical professionals should always remember to take care of themselves – but the honest truth is that many people in the medical field shoot for excellent care of their patients and families while neglecting their own health and well-being.

Depression and insomnia are common problems for nurses, doctors and other professionals in the medical field. It can also be one of the hardest things to deal with, especially when getting home from a rough shift (which is likely to describe every single shift you’ll ever have as a nurse).

Struggling to get any quality sleep or having trouble falling asleep in the first place? 

1. The Importance of Winding Down

Shift nurse tired in the ward

“What happened at work today?” is one of the most loaded questions someone could ask a nurse at the end of any day’s work, but it can also be one of the most important questions for a nurse to answer.

One of the most common hindrances to a good night’s sleep is the feeling of having taken your work home with you: Every patient, worry and family is yours as a nurse to carry.

Take the time to wind down when you get home from work. Lessen the weight of the day behind you by recounting things that might have happened – or things that might be, inevitably, stuck in your mind after it happened.

Some people prefer to tell a friend, while some take to social media or write it down in a diary: However you yourself choose to do it, winding down is one of the most important parts of the day.

2. Change Your Meal Routine

When is the best time to eat

Most nurses are known for “grabbing something quick” to eat as they move through shifts at work, but once they get home, it’s hard to forget that you’re in another environment (and many nurses do the same thing in their own kitchens). What you’re eating and when during the day you choose to eat it can have a lot to do with how well you sleep after.

The best time to eat your final meal of the day is no less than 3 hours before you go to bed, ideally around 6:00 p.m.

Quick, fast or convenience meals might not be the best: Check out a few internet recipes on YouTube to find ways to make what you would actually like to eat in just a few minutes – there’s always a fast, healthy version of a meal that you love and can make in a few minutes as opposed to the time it would normally take.

If you can’t sleep or get hungry at night, change your meal routine: Eat an hour later (and an hour earlier) to see if it means that you sleep any better. Sometimes the body just doesn’t like digesting and sleeping at the same time and it might be part of the main reason why you can’t sleep.

3. Invest in Quality Bedding

The quality of the sleep you get to have is often only as good as the mattress and pillows you’re getting the sleep on. A bed that’s any more than five years old is likely to be doing more damage to your back, hips and neck than can be good for you; the same is true for pillows that have been around for longer than you can remember.

Invest in quality bedding as a nurse and you’ll notice that you have a better night to begin with. This means fabrics that breathe well (even if they might cost a little more), pillows that are comfortable from the first day and stay like that for months at a time and a mattress that you’re happy to get home to. Consider your sleeping position when choosing the right pillow, stomach sleepers benefit from a thin pillow, back and side sleepers benefit from firmer and loftier pillow.

Many nurses who have trouble with insomnia might also benefit from the added comfort that a weighted blanket might have to offer; the feeling of being “weighted down” can be a great way to fall asleep if you generally have trouble with it.

Bedding often seems like a luxury expense to many nurses, but any money that makes your life better is money well spent. 

4. Learn the Technique of Self Massage

Nurses have a lot in common with service industry staff positions like chefs and waiters: Both spend a great deal of their day on their feet in a high-stress environment – and this can mean that these careers all share many of the same work-related stresses and injuries.

Sore, tense and sometimes stretched or torn muscles and ligaments are common due to the amount of stress the muscles will take.

Massage can help to relieve stress and tension in the muscles, but most people either won’t spend the money to see a professional massage therapist or just don’t have the spare time. Self-massage techniques can have the same benefits as a professional massage without the cost, time spent or effort that might come with booking a spa session or massage.

A simple tennis ball pressed against a wall can help to massage the areas of the back and hips that you yourself can’t reach: YouTube has thousands of other videos that describe more self-massage techniques that can help and that will only take a few minutes.

5. A Wealth of Herbal Tea Blends

Best teas for sleep

Most nurses have at least one type of tea in their cupboard. If you don’t, it’s a good excuse to head to the store and stock up. Tea is great for a lot more than just hydrating – a cup of tea before bed can do wonders for taking care of insomnia and tension.

There are plenty of teas that might work well for sleeplessness and stress: Some people opt for Ylang-Ylang while others will swear by teas like rooibos, chamomile or lavender for the same. 

Chamomile tea contains an antioxidant called apigenin, which may help induce sleep.

Find the tea blend that works best for you.

If tea isn’t your thing, cocoa or warm milk has been shown to have the same relaxing effects that a cup of herbal tea might right before bed.

6. Take a Warm Bath

Bath to destress

Nurses and medical doctors both know of the benefits a warm bath can have for the body, but very few professionals remember to apply their medical knowledge to their own bodies in their own time when they get home.

A warm bath or shower helps the body to “wind down” from stress, tension and pain built up during the day and it could be what you need to get you a step closer to a good night’s rest. The addition of essential oils to your bath can help.

7. The Yoga Approach

Yoga to unwind

A good stretch before and after exercise is recommended in most YouTube videos, exercise programs and articles about staying fit, but stretching can also be recommended before and after bedtime for the same reason a warm bath is: It can help the body to get rid of any stress and tension that you might have built up during the day or night – and it can reduce your risk of muscle and joint injury as a result of this tension.

Take a yoga class, pick up a yoga book, watch a five minute YouTube video on how to ease tension in your muscles: Yoga is something that can be adapted depending on the space and time you have available to do it.

Start with simple, baby steps and easy stretches: Heading straight to advanced bending and stretching has a lot of potential for injury.

8. The Official Debriefing

Male bed insomnia

Nurses have one of the most important jobs a person can have: It’s just as high-stress as any other medical professional or emergency response technician working alongside them, and this means that workplace-related trauma is common amongst many working nurses (and of course, many aspiring and retired ones, too).

If you’re struggling to sleep, having trouble with nightmares and flashes of past events or having difficulty processing past trauma or possible fears, it’s time to see a clinician, therapist or psychologist for an official debriefing.

It’s one of the most important parts of being a medical professional that often gets skipped over and leads to problems like insomnia. In most cases, it’s treatable and you don’t have to struggle with it alone.


NBC News: How What You Eat Affects Your Sleep

Fiber and Saturated Fat Are Associated with Sleep Arousals and Slow Wave Sleep

Sleep patterns, diet quality and energy balance

Time: When To Eat Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

The effects of chamomile extract on sleep quality among elderly people: A clinical trial.

Risks of treated anxiety, depression, and insomnia among nurses: A nationwide longitudinal cohort study