As as travel nurse, you’re used to changing your schedule and adapting to new environments — but working a night shift can interrupt anybody’s circadian rhythm. Whether you burn the midnight oil only occasionally or consistently work 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., the following tips can help you get adequate and restful sleep before and after your shift.
1. Establish a bedtime routine, and stick to it. Each night, follow the same pattern before going to sleep — such as brushing your teeth, washing your face, taking a warm bath and winding down with a book — to train your body that it’s time to sleep. Figure out what helps you to relax if you’re not sleepy so you can get some rest more quickly.
2. Hang blackout curtains in your room. Get uninterrupted sleep by blocking light and sound from your bedroom with these curtains, designed to keep the room darker and quieter both day and night. Don’t have time to buy blackout curtains? Draping a heavy blanket over your window can also help.
3. Keep your room cool, if possible. While you may not always be able to keep the temperature in your apartment down during a particularly hot summer, you’ll sleep better if your bedroom stays cooler so you don’t get overheated and wake up.
4. Turn off your phone. Friends and family may be unaware of your work schedule and call you in the morning when you’re trying to sleep. Prevent interruptions by silencing or unplugging your landline and setting your cell phone to “do not disturb” or turning it off entirely.
5. Avoid caffeine at least a few hours before bedtime. You may rely on an energy drink or soda to keep you awake when 3 a.m. rolls around, but caffeine can cause insomnia as well as headaches and dizziness, according to the National Sleep Foundation. If you must drink a caffeinated beverage during your shift, do so as early as possible so you don’t keep yourself awake later when you’re trying to go to sleep.
6. Get some exercise during your shift. If you are spending most of your shift sitting at a desk, make sure to get up when you can and move around a bit. Even taking a quick walk outside — or, if that’s not an option, around the building a few times — can keep you alert and also help your body to feel tired once you’re ready to sleep.
7. Let others know your schedule so they can help you get some sleep. You’ll inevitably encounter interruptions, like someone knocking or ringing the doorbell while you’re sleeping, but you can minimize these by telling friends, neighbors, colleagues and family your schedule. Make sure they know that you won’t be answering the door or the phone between certain hours — and then stick to that. If you take phone calls during the time you’re normally sleeping, friends will assume your schedule has changed or that they can talk to you during that time.
8. Use the bathroom and avoid drinking too much liquid right before bed. If you have to wake up to use the bathroom a few hours after getting home from your shift, it can be hard to fall back asleep. Minimize the chance of this happening by drinking less about an hour before your shift ends and using the restroom when you leave or right when you get home.
9. Wear dark sunglasses on your drive home. The National Sleep Foundation recommends putting sunglasses on if you leave work at dawn to avoid disrupting your body’s Circadian rhythm. It can be hard to fall asleep when it’s light outside, so trick your body into believing it’s still nighttime with dark glasses.
10. Keep your room quiet with a sound machine. It’s not just for babies: White noise can block outside traffic noises, sounds from your children or spouse and even the clatter from the kitchen if someone else is home. Choose one with several sounds so you can find one that works best for you.