Lack of sleep is connected to everything from an increased risk of obesity, heart disease, depression and even getting in a car accident on the way home from work.

This is not great news for nurses or other shift workers.  Especially for those who work mid-shifts, night shifts or swing shifts (alternating day and night shifts).

And when you add parenthood into the picture, getting enough quality sleep sometimes becomes impossible.  Just ask any shift worker with kids.

When we sleep our bodies do a lot of necessary and important work.

Throughout the night (or day if you are a night shift worker) our body enters REM sleep (our dream state) between 3-5 times.  This is controlled by our body’s circadian rhythm, which is also responsible for helping to regenerate every cell in our body.

Without restorative sleep cycles, our body loses the opportunity to regenerate our organs and cells.  We essentially lose our battery power.  Then we feel tired, cranky and unwell when we get up the next day.

So the question is – how are sleep-deprived nurses and other shift workers supposed to care for their health when getting enough sleep is sometimes not a realistic option?

Again – getting enough restorative sleep is the goal.  But if that is not an option due to your work and/or your family schedule, here are a few tips to take better care of yourself in the interim.

Drink matcha green tea instead of coffee

a mug of match tea
If you drink coffee, try matcha green tea instead.

Matcha green tea contains vitamin A and C, iron, calcium, protein, and potassium – none of which are found in coffee.  Matcha also contains types of antioxidants called catechins, which are known to prevent cancer in the body.  Many studies have linked green tea to a variety of health benefits such as weight loss, preventing heart disease and preventing type 2 diabetes.

In addition, matcha green tea provides a less jittery caffeine high than coffee.  That is because matcha contains L-Theanine, an amino acid that helps your body process caffeine differently than coffee.   As a result, matcha contains much less caffeine than coffee yet has a more sustained energy boost, without the crash later on.

Get moving

Woman Running

When you’re sleep-deprived, the last thing you may want to think about is exercise

But, sleep and exercise are inter-correlated with one another in a way that may benefit anyone who is sleep-deprived. Even a 20-30 minute brisk walk can help you feel better when you are fatigued.

Second, exercise has long been associated with achieving higher quality sleep.  Evidence demonstrates that exercise helps you fall asleep faster and achieve better quality sleep – a benefit to shift workers who have difficulty sleeping during unusual times.

Pack a lunch bag

lunch box preparation
Pack your lunch so you don’t reach for unhealthy snacks when you are tired.

When we are tired and short on time we tend to gravitate towards unhealthy convenience foods.   A helpful way to prevent this from happening is to prepare all of your meals and snacks for your day ahead of time. 

Start by meal prepping one day a week, or just pack your lunch the night before.  As a mom, I’m always preparing food for my kids so I use that time to make my own lunches as well.

Here are a few healthy, easy snack foods for anyone tired and on-the-go

  • apples and almond butter
  • almonds or trail mix
  • smoothies (put all the chopped ingredients in a Nutribullet, add liquid and blend when you are ready to eat!)
  • veggies and hummus or guacamole dip
  • hard-boiled eggs
  • cottage cheese and pineapple
  • string cheese
  • peanut butter and celery
  • pumpkin seeds
  • edamame
  • overnight oatmeal

Take a power nap

To be a healthy nurse you must get a good night's sleep.
Take power naps to recharge during the day.

According to the National Sleep Foundation naps can:

  • Restore alertness, enhance performance, and reduce mistakes and accidents. In fact, a study at NASA on sleepy military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness 100%!
  • Naps can increase alertness in the period directly following the nap and may extend alertness a few hours later in the day.  Great for nurses working 12+ hour shifts!
  • Napping is psychologically beneficial and provides an easy way to get some relaxation and rejuvenation.

Avoid mindless social media browsing when you do have the opportunity to sleep

Nurse on smart phone using nurse apps
Sleep when you have the opportunity to sleep.  

Not only is 99% of social media browsing a huge time-suck, but the light from your cell phone really messes up your sleep.

Cell phones emit bright blue light that is meant to stimulate the brain. By looking at a cell phone before bed it causes the brain to stop producing melatonin, which is the hormone that cues the brain that its time for slumber. As a result, smartphone light can disrupt the sleep cycle which makes it hard to fall and stay asleep.

Do restorative yoga before bed

Woman doing child's pose.
Restorative yoga may help you fall asleep faster.

Restorative yoga is a great way to wind down from a shift at work, especially when you need a little TLC.  The practice allows you to be still, focus on your breathing and invite a sense of calm into your body.  All of which helps to relax the nervous system and prepare your body for a good sleep.

Yoga also helps relieve stress and anxiety. Start with a few rounds of deep breathing and tune into yourself.  Follow with a seated twist, knees-to-chest pose, happy baby, a reclining twist and then end your practice with your legs up the wall.

Tired yet?

When you prepare ahead, it is possible to take good care of yourself when you are a little short on sleep.  At least until you can get your head on the pillow.