Better Sleep Health: A Guide for Health Care Workers

Courtesy of USU Department of Psychiatry Chronobiology, Light and Sleep Laboratory and the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress

The health and safety of hospital workers is critical to our ability to mitigate the impact of any national health crisis.

Hospital workers often get less than the recommended 6-9 hours of sleep per night and may need to work around-the-clock.  Sleep loss and circadian misalignment are likely to become even more commonplace as the days go by.  This can have negative health and safety consequences including impaired immune function and increased accidents and errors.

As a hospital worker, you can prevent this by prioritizing sleep from the moment you wake up and following the guidelines below.  Sleep is a tool you can use to help your body fight off infection, maintain health and perform at its best, which will have a positive impact on the health and well-being of your patients.

A patient consulting a doctor, both are in masks

Make Sleep A Priority

Upon waking, get at least 15-60 minutes of bright light.  Natural sunlight is best or any bright, or blue-enriched light (e.g. light box, bright indoor lights).  This signals to your biological clock that it’s time to start the day.

Exercising closer to wake time can signal daytime and improve sleep quality.  Avoid intense exercise close to bedtime and when you are sick.

Take naps and consider banking your sleep.  Even short naps (< 20 minutes) can improve alertness, performance and memory.  Longer naps (> 60 minutes) or extending sleep can make up for lost sleep or prepare you for anticipated sleep loss from a difficult shift.

Use caffeine judiciously.  It can help keep you awake when tired, but those effects remain for hours and can interfere with your ability to fall asleep.  Therefore, try not to consume caffeine within about 6 hours of your desired bedtime.  Also, caffeine may become less effective when it is consumed too often, which means it won’t be as useful at times when you really need it.

Limit alcohol before bed. It may be sedating at first, but it disrupts your sleep quality. 

Keep a regular sleep and wake schedule as much as possible, even on your days off. This helps keep your sleep and circadian rhythms in sync and minimizes a physiological “jet lag.”

Create a regular bedtime routine of quiet activities, like taking warm showers, reading, brushing your teeth and ending with relaxation exercises, to get your mind and body ready for sleep.

Limit alerting activities close to bedtime, especially light (e.g. screens), caffeine, exercise and work.

Optimize your sleep environment.  Keep it DARK, cool, quiet and comfortable.  Use eye masks or blackout curtains, and turn your screens off to foster a biological night. 

Please take care of your patients by taking care of yourself.