By Emma Smith, ED/Critical Care Nurse and author of the blog ‘The Other Shift’.
The ‘Other Shift’ is about creating a place for shift workers like Emma who might be battling sleep fatigue, struggling to exercise and stay healthy or finding the right balance between ‘you time’ and managing your relationships.
Are you struggling to get enough sleep as a busy agency nurse?
Maybe you’re feeling anxious about whether your phone will ring at 5 am for an early shift and it’s keeping you awake?
Or, maybe you’re amid working differently timed shifts and getting the recommended 7-9 hours of shut-eye seems impossible.
Sleep hygiene is a term described by the Sleep Foundation as, ‘a variety of different practices and habits that are necessary to have a good night-time sleep quality and full daytime alertness’.
Despite not having a set routine, sleep is a critical piece of the puzzle for agency nurses. Why? Our job requires us to bring our A game – consistently. Seamlessly fitting into new environments and adapting to entirely new systems. Providing excellent care demands sleep and lots of it.
Here are 7 ways agency nurses can get better sleep
1. Be smart with how you’re requesting and accepting shifts
It may seem like a relief when the agency calls offering you a shift but be sure to consider where the shift is located before saying yes.
For some, travelling to a new facility can be daunting, often forcing us agency nurses to allow for more travel time than usual in order to arrive on time. This can mean much earlier wake-up times and poor sleep due to the stress of the unknown.
Things to consider when accepting shifts:
– What is the drive time?
– Is there parking available for agency staff?
– Where is security to sign in (if necessary)?
– What happens if I get lost? Did I leave enough time for potential issues?
– Am I able to leave at a reasonable hour and still arrive on time?
2. Get outside and exercise:
Some nursing agency shifts are physically and mentally draining. And unfortunately, they don’t replace an exercise workout. Focus on activities and exercise you get enjoyment from to create new, healthy habits.
Think about activities, which involve being outside in the fresh air. Running, walking, swimming, team sports, spin classes, yoga and even consider creating your own circuit in your lounge room or backyard.
It only takes 30 minutes of vigorous activity a day and your sleep, mood and stress level will improve dramatically!
3. Sleep wherever and whenever you can (when safe and appropriate):
– Nap strategically (no more than 20 minutes at a time).
– If you’re feeling sleepy after a night shift, stop and pull over on the side of the road and sleep for 15-20 minutes. You’ll feel rejuvenated and ensure safety for not only yourself but for other drivers on the road.
– Use “quite rooms” when available at work for a nap and use your breaks wisely.
– Rearrange social events so you can still enjoy time with your friends and family rather than skipping or shortening your sleep.
4. Use sleep aids:
Maximise the time you have to sleep and don’t waste time struggling to fall asleep.
Consider incorporating sleep aids to improve your sleep hygiene:
– Eye Masks
– Black-out blinds
– Pedestal fan
– Opening your bedroom window
– Camomile tea
– White noise machine
5. Stay away from the blue light
Did you know the light coming from your phone, laptop, lights, bedside lamp and the sun are engaging your sleep hormone Melatonin, thus keeping you awake?
Most of us use technology to wind down after a busy shift, right? In the 90 minutes before bedtime, try wearing blue light blocking glasses and finally let your sleep hormones do their job. Turn off the T.V and put down your phone. In return, read a book or listen to a podcast. Trust me, you’ll be relaxed and nodding off in no time.
6. Be aware of caffeine and alcohol before bed
Nurses live on caffeine. It fuels our tired bodies at any hour, but it does have a dark side. Caffeine can stay in our systems for up to 12 hours making sleep a tough task when we’re finally ready to rest.
Alcohol is as equally confusing to our bodies. You may feel sleepy right after your first sip, but you’ll be awake needing the bathroom in no time. Alcohol also makes you dehydrated, which is the last thing you need after a long shift!
Instead, be smart about your beverage choice 4-5 hours before you sleep to avoid running into sleep issues. Swap to green decaffeinated tea or simply water with lemon, orange, mint, cucumber or strawberries.
7. Look after yourself
I know how tempting it is to accept multiple shifts in a row with little break due to the increase of greens in your bank account.
But just remember, the money will mean nothing if you jeopardise your registration for doing something silly due to sleep fatigue. Look out for number one and make sure sleep is a priority and not the first thing to slip when life gets busy.
Looking out for yourself also means eating a healthy balanced diet, but this can be difficult when you’re exhausted after a night shift and just want to get take-away at the restaurant next door. It’s best to prepare your meals in advance so you have healthy options ready to go.
How to be an agency nurse and get better sleep?
Stop and logistically consider what saying yes to a shift looks like in regards to the amount of sleep you will get.
Are you able to provide consistent, yet safe nursing care on only a few hours sleep? Probably not.
Sleep may not be the sexiest of topics, but it’s imperative not only to our work, but also to life outside of work.
As the famous saying goes, ‘be careful not to burn the candle at both ends…’
How do you make sure you get enough sleep as an agency nurse?
Emma Smith from the ‘The Other Shift’