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Best Tips for Getting Better Sleep as a PRN Nurse

Some people think that choosing a career in nursing is like putting a pitchfork in your sleep routine. That’s because long shifts and often working through the night, combined with the high-pressure nature of nursing, can impact the ability to sleep well. As a matter of fact, research has shown that nurses get significantly less sleep leading up to their shift days. As a result, sleep deprivation is common among nurses and can contribute to medical errors. In other words, it’s definitely no surprise that establishing healthy sleep patterns as a nurse can be challenging. 

Clearly, getting enough sleep as a nurse is essential. Still, any medical professional who has faced long workdays, including covering swing shifts or being on their feet for more than twelve hours, understands that sleep isn’t always a priority. 

In reality, getting adequate sleep should be a priority for all nurses. With that said, maybe you are a nurse or medical professional struggling with sleep. If you are, you came to the right place. While we are not sleep doctors, we do understand what it’s like to be a busy per diem or PRN nurse and happen to have a few tips up our sleeves that may help you catch some ZZZs at night. 

Keep reading for some of the best tips for getting better sleep as a PRN Nurse. 

Get in Tune with your Circadian Rhythm

Most people have heard the term circadian rhythm, but not many know what it actually means. Put simply, our circadian rhythm is an internal process unique to us. It’s our body’s internal clock that regulates our sleep-wake cycle and is very sensitive to environmental stimuli. 

Some say that going to bed shortly after dark and rising with the sun in the morning is the optimal way to establish a healthy circadian rhythm. And while hitting the hay at the first sign of dusk and waking up fresh at daybreak sounds glorious, in the present day, this type of circadian cycle seems impractical. That’s because PRN nurses work odd shifts and hours and are constantly exposed to artificial light and stimuli, affecting the ability to foster a healthy circadian rhythm. 

With this in mind, making minor adjustments to your daily routine can help promote a better circadian rhythm. Here are a few ways to do this are:

  • Natural light: Expose yourself to natural light as much as possible before and after your PRN shifts. This could mean sunbathing for a few moments by a windowsill, sneaking in a morning walk or run, or taking your breaks outside if it’s sunny. 
  • Limit screen time: Scrolling through your Instagram feed before bed always seems like a good idea until you find yourself over-stimulated and buzzed—unable to fall asleep. That’s because artificial light from screens can severely interrupt your ability to regulate healthy sleep patterns. It’s best, therefore, to turn off screens at least an hour before bed. 
  • A Dark Room: No, this doesn’t mean turning your bedroom into a lion’s lair. But if you want to set the mood for sleep, it’s best to dim the lights a few hours before bed. This involves shutting off all sources of artificial light, thus helping your body manage the production of melatonin. 

Once your body clock is in check, it’s time to focus on a few other sleep strategies that can get you to keep your snooze on for good. 

Get Moving

Yes, we know: It almost goes without saying that exercise plays a vital role in sleep health. Yet, research shows that 80 percent of adults in the US do not get enough exercise. Consequently, those who work in the medical field may find that a busy schedule hinders them even more from finding time to exercise. But believe us when we say that just a few minutes of brisk exercise a day can help burn calories, improve blood flow, and, yes, even help with sleep! So what are some quick exercises to get your blood flowing between shifts? Try a do-it-anywhere HIIT workout and feel the burn before your next rotating shift. Or, squeeze in a high-intensity running interval before work and get yourself pumped and focused for another day on the floor. However you choose to get your heart rate going, we can almost guarantee exercise will help with better sleep. 

Eat for Sleep 

If you really want to give your sleep a makeover, it’s essential to factor in what you eat, especially a few hours before bed. Heartburn, overstimulation, and blood sugar can all have a major effect on your sleep health. That being said, here are a few foods to avoid before slipping into sweet slumber:

  • Alcohol and caffeine: Having a cup of coffee in the morning can actually be healthy for sleep, but limit caffeine to at least three hours before bed if you don’t want it to interfere with your melatonin production. The same goes for alcohol. While it may initially put you to sleep, alcohol can affect your wake-sleep alarm and have you buzzing (quite literally) in the middle of the night. 
  • Too much sugar: Consuming sugar before bed (and yes, this refers to some refined carbohydrates as well) can interfere with your blood sugar levels and make sleep difficult. You don’t have to give up your sweet tooth; just try to limit your sugar intake and eat your sweets at least a few hours before going to bed. 

So are there any foods that can promote good sleep? Of course! In fact, there are plenty of options aside from sleepy tea and melatonin chewables that can help you get a great night of sleep, including the following:

  • Whole grains and bananas: An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but a banana a day will keep your insomnia at bay. That’s because bananas are loaded with potassium, which helps promote healthy sleep. Furthermore, whole grains such as raw oats or whole-grain pasta are rich in compounds that help regulate melatonin.
  • White rice: A good ole’ serving of white rice a few times a week can help you achieve better sleep. Why? Blame it on its high glycemic index, which causes insulin levels to rise and trigger the amino acid tryptophan. And as nature has it, tryptophan is an essential nutrient that is linked to better sleep. Maybe that’s why one study from Japan showed that those with a higher dietary glycemic diet also had lower rates of poor sleep. 

Becoming a Sleeping Beauty Takes Practice

If only we humans were equipped with a switch to turn on or off for sleep on-demand. But, in reality, we don’t have a sleep switch, so for now, we just need to practice healthy sleep strategies to get the sleep we need—and deserve. 

Are you getting enough sleep at night as a nurse? Which sleep strategies work for you and which don’t? We want to know—drop a comment below.


Blog published on:
July 15, 2022

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