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14 ways to cope with lack of sleep

Struggling to sleep? Mark Topps investigates why we need sleep and what you can do to find that balance between working in care and hitting the hay.

With the recent sunshine across most of the UK for the last few weeks and the forecast ahead looking good, it’s time to get your care service ready for the summer season.

A light brown pug wrapped in a taupe coloured blanket, showing only their tired face, with a duvet blurred out on a bed in the background.
Mark Topps
Mark Topps
Regional Business Manager
Published on:
22/7/2022
· Last Edited On:
9/6/2022
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8-minute read

As I’m writing this, I’m sat in my garden enjoying the evening heat. I can’t believe it’s nearly 7.30pm and still 33°C, which is going to make for a difficult night’s sleep. But, working in health and social care, it’s not just the hot summer nights that keep us awake, and in this week’s blog I look at what you can do to cope with lack of sleep.

Why do we struggle to sleep?

As care staff, we’re often left with lack of sleep for several reasons, including:

  • Stress, anxiety, worries and concerns regarding work, personal life, the people we support, how we’ve performed at etc.
  • Difficulty leaving work and switching off, always replaying events and situations over and over in our minds.
  • Night shifts – many of us work a mixture of days and nights, whilst other just night shifts, which has a huge impact on our body clocks.
  • Lifestyle – many of us eat on the go or snack on breaks. Most of the time we’re running around looking after someone else, so it’s easy to forget about our own needs. Energy drinks, crisps and microwave meals are part of a lot of our diets.

Why do we need sleep?

Sleep is an essential function that allows our body and mind to recharge. Research and studies have shown that poor sleep patterns can impact our health, leading to illness, affecting our memory and concentration, and reducing our ability to react to situations. It’s recommended that we have between seven and nine hours of sleep each night.

How long do you normally get?

How to cope with lack of sleep

This is something that’s easier said than done and requires you to change your lifestyle and sleep habits.

Here’s my advice:

  1. Have a set time to go to bed. This is harder if you’re working a mixture of shifts, so you may need to take these into consideration when picking a time. It’s important you stick to the time, even at weekends and days off.
  2. Check you have the right mattress and pillows. Bed companies, such as Dreams, offer free services using technology to work out the best type of mattress and pillows you need for an optimal night’s sleep.
  3. Use your bed just for sleeping, not for lounging, working or studying on, so that your brain associates the bed with sleeping and not active thinking.
  4. Turn off your electronic devices. We hear this time and time again but screen time stops our brains unwinding. Many sleep professionals recommend a total screen ban in the bedroom, including mobile phones, televisions, smart watches, tablets and virtual assistive technologies, such as Alexa devices.
  5. Make sure your bedroom is at the right temperature for you - doctors recommend 18.3°C.
  6. Limit naps to no more than 30 minutes so you’re tired before bed.
  7. Avoid sugar, caffeine and large meals before bed. Sugary foods can increase sugar levels which will then crash whilst you are sleeping, alerting your body to an emergency and awaking you from the dozy stage. Caffeine is a stimulant and will delay your body clock, and therefore reduce your sleep time. Large meals will slow down your body preparing itself for sleep and can impact on memory and efficiency the next day.
  8. Download a sleep app – whilst these won’t improve your sleep, they can set bedtime reminders and give you insight into your sleep patterns, like how long it takes you to fall asleep, how long you’re in a deep sleep for, how much you move whilst asleep etc.
  9. Take an NHS sleep assessment.
  10. Download a meditation app – again, these won’t improve your sleep but help you de-stress and increase your focus to be present in the moment.
  11. Researching and reviewing your diet can help you detox and improve your eating habits, to help us with our sleep patterns. Avoid foods such as chocolate, cheese, bananas, crisps and swap these for almonds, kiwi, malted milk, fatty fish or food sources containing melatonin.
  12. Exercise – ideally during the day but make sure this is at least 90 minutes before you go to sleep.
  13. Create a wind down before bed to help ease your mind and put you into a state of relaxation. This could include reading a book, meditation, yoga, listening to relaxing music etc.
  14. Speak to your employer about your shifts, rest days, rota pattern, work demands etc.

This list isn’t exhaustive and there are many other tips. Remember, if sleep is affecting your moods and ability to concentrate and react to situations it could lead to unsafe situations, which could impact you, your colleagues and the people you support, so you may need to seek medical advice from your doctor.

Remember, it’s okay to say no… no to going out with your friends if you don’t feel like it, no to picking up that shift because its uncovered, no to having a glass of wine in the evening because it’s what you’ve always done.

You’re the key

The first step to a good night’s sleep starts with you! Don’t try and do everything on this list at once because it’s not achievable, instead take one or two, embed them into your routine and then take on a couple more. I’m not a sleep expert, but am someone who loves their sleep, so please do contact me if you have any further questions.

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