Practice What You Preach
Every morning before bidding my patients farewell, I hand them a booklet, pamphlet, or sheet of paper highlighting the rules they should follow to have better sleep. I like to call them the "Do's and Don'ts of Sleep." You know, DO keep your room dark and quiet, and DON'T have a pot of coffee before bed. You probably know this list as the sleep hygiene recommendations or some similar name.
I tell my patients that these things are very important practices to achieve quality sleep and that they apply to everyone. Oh, wait, does that mean sleep techs too!? YES!!
Perhaps the most difficult rule for night techs and other shift workers to follow is to keep a regular sleep/wake schedule. Of course sleeping at night is out of the question but keeping a regular schedule is possible. This means even on our days/nights off we will need to stay on the same schedule.
For example, if a shift worker normally sleeps from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. during his work schedule, he would need to sleep during those same hours during his off schedule. But who wants to do that? No one does. Yet in reality we all need sleep and constantly switching from sleeping in the day to sleeping at night disrupts our internal clock causing us to be forgetful, less focused and (gasp!) grumpy.
I used to work all night and then try to run errands and spend time with my family during the day after only a couple hours of sleep or no sleep at all. (Sound familiar?) I found that I didn't really get much done because I was so tired and my family didn't really enjoy my company because I became irritated easily or just simply was not alert enough to really listen. I tried to be super mom ... working all night, take older kids to school, stay up with toddler at home, pick kids up from school, cook, clean, work again. I hated the idea of hiring a sitter for time that I would be home. It felt like I was pawning my responsibilities on someone else. I felt there would be a stigma associated with sleeping in the day and that I would be viewed as lazy. After my toddler covered me in chocolate syrup when I didn't wake up from our nap, I realized I needed real sleep -- and a shower.
If I were working a day shift, I'd have to hire a sitter and I would not be spending that time with my family so there really was no difference in taking my normal time to sleep, except that I wasn't tired anymore. I was a better, more alert employee. I was a much nicer person and the time with my family was quality time. I also started other sleep hygiene habits making my bedroom dark and quiet, eliminating caffeine several hours before bed and taking the television out of my room.
We work every night to bring others better sleep but we don't have to be left out, if we just practice what we preach.