We Need to Talk About Sleep
Healthy sleeping habits play a significant role in physical and brain health, meaning sleeping disorders like insomnia typically have negative impacts on overall health, job performance, and quality of life.
Insomnia is fairly common, with roughly 1 in 3 adults having symptoms, including difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or not getting quality sleep—which can result in waking up too early or feeling tired in the mornings.
Other symptoms include:
- Tiredness or sleepiness throughout the day
- Irritability, depression, or anxiety
- Difficulty paying attention, focusing on tasks, or remembering
- Increased errors or accidents
- Ongoing worries about sleep
While only about 10% of adults meet the criteria for insomnia disorder, workers in certain industries, like healthcare, might be more likely to suffer from insomnia and its impacts.
Impact of Insomnia on Nurses and Healthcare Workers
Some of the largest risk factors for insomnia, like stress, grief, fluctuating schedules, and inconsistent routines, are extremely common among healthcare workers and in the industry as a whole. Not only is insomnia known to have negative impacts on health, but in the instance of healthcare workers, it can also alter their ability to provide quality care to patients.
One of the most common symptoms of insomnia is fatigue, which can lead to increased feelings of burnout and job dissatisfaction. Not to mention, fatigue can create a higher risk of depression and anxiety, which continues to perpetuate burnout and job dissatisfaction—resulting in higher turnover rates and staffing shortages in the industry.
Poor sleep quality is also linked to a range of physical health problems, like heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and more. These conditions can further impact a healthcare worker’s quality of life and ability to perform their jobs effectively.
Similarly, fatigue causes reduced cognitive function, impaired decision-making, and decreased job performance. In the healthcare industry, this can lead to mistakes and errors that have serious consequences—making it incredibly important to seek treatment.
How to Treat Insomnia
Insomnia treatments might include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), prescriptions, and lifestyle changes like improving sleep hygiene.
Improving Sleep Hygiene:
To combat symptoms of insomnia, individuals are typically advised to improve overall sleep hygiene by establishing a consistent sleep schedule, avoiding stimulating activities before bed, and creating a sleep-conducive environment. For example:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same times each day, even on weekends.
- Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature for sleeping. Consider using blackout curtains, white noise machines, fans, or humidifiers.
- Eliminate exposure to screens, such as TVs, phones, tablets, and computers, especially before bed.
- Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bed.
- Stay active during the day to promote better sleep at night.
Better Sleep Hygiene Despite Inconsistent Schedules
However, healthcare workers typically don’t have the option to work a perfectly consistent schedule the same way other industries do. Because of this, it’s nearly impossible to establish a consistent sleep schedule. That’s okay, there are still ways to help improve your sleep hygiene and combat insomnia.
In addition to staying active, creating an ideal sleeping environment, and limiting exposure to screens right before beds, healthcare workers can:
- Educate themselves on the impacts of shift work and irregular schedules so they are aware and can monitor potential mental and physical health effects.
- Keep a sleep diary to track sleep factors, such as quality of sleep, activity, caffeine intake, and more.
- Fight fatigue by learning more about it and using evidence-based strategies to manage it, such as those listed here.
Working inconsistent schedules can make it more difficult to achieve optimal sleep hygiene, but it’s not impossible. It simply requires a little extra effort and research to best understand how your body responds to different sleep hacks.
CBT is a form of therapy that focuses on changing negative thoughts and behaviors, including those related to sleep, and has been effective in treating individuals experiencing insomnia.
Specifically, CBT strategies used for insomnia include:
- Stimulus control therapy: focuses on removing factors that condition your mind to resist sleep.
- Relaxation techniques: muscle relaxation, biofeedback, and breathing to reduce anxiety at bedtime.
- Sleep restriction: decreases time spent in bed and eliminates daytime naps to promote sleep at night.
- Remaining passively awake: trying to stay awake as a way to counter the anxiety surrounding falling asleep.
- Light therapy: using light to adjust your internal clock.
For those struggling with chronic insomnia, doctors may prescribe sleep aids or medications to treat underlying conditions that may be impacting sleep. It’s important to talk to your doctor about each medication and what side effects they may have.
Without treatment, insomnia can feel debilitating and impossible to overcome. However, it is a common and treatable condition. Addressing the issue of insomnia among healthcare workers is an important part of ensuring quality patient care in healthcare facilities. Employers can help by promoting healthy sleep habits, educating staff, and supplying resources so healthcare workers can prioritize their own health, too.
If you are struggling with insomnia or other brain health symptoms, please reach out to resources in your area. You’re not alone—we’re here to help.
Cleveland Clinic (2023, February 13). Insomnia. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/12119-insomnia#:~:text=How%20common%20is%20insomnia%3F,the%20criteria%20for%20insomnia%20disorder
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (2022, March 24). Insomnia: Causes and Risk Factors. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/insomnia/causes#:~:text=Stress%20or%20worrying%20about%20school,insomnia%20or%20make%20it%20worse.
News in Health (2013, April 1). The Benefits of Slumber. https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2013/04/benefits-slumber#:~:text=%E2%80%9CSleep%20affects%20almost%20every%20tissue,obesity%2C%20heart%20disease%20and%20infections.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2022, September 13). Tips For Better Sleep. https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/sleep_hygiene.html#:~:text=Make%20sure%20your%20bedroom%20is,Get%20some%20exercise.
Human Performance Resources by CHAMP (2018, March 5). Shifts happen: Managing your sleep with irregular work schedules. https://www.hprc-online.org/mental-fitness/sleep-stress/shifts-happen-managing-your-sleep-irregular-work-schedules
Human Performance Resources by CHAMP (2023, April 14). Fatigue management strategies for shift work and sustained operations. https://www.hprc-online.org/mental-fitness/sleep-stress/fatigue-management-strategies-shift-work-and-sustained-operations