Addressing Nurses' Sleep Meter For Better Heart Health

When it comes to improving your heart health, it is time to enhance your personal sleep habits. It may be a challenge, but it is a critical step. This article includes helpful strategies to help you get better sleep, achieve sleep goals and decrease heart health risks. Nurses Stress 101 Article


Addressing Nurses' Sleep Meter For Better Heart Health

Sleep for nurses may not be optimal these days. With the current healthcare standing and nursing shortage, nurses may find themselves in distress, burnout, and face sleeping issues.

When we experience significant stress in our nursing jobs, lack of sleep eventually follows, among other symptoms.

However, the real risk of heart-related problems lies in the personal number of sleep hours and the quality of your sleep1 on any given day.

Sleep helps your body refuel and recuperate. According to the Sleep Foundation2, let your body recharge through sleep for optimal health and performance. Give it a chance to replenish and do its physiological recovery mode.

Unfortunately, as nurses, we are reminded of this fact as we educate our patients about the constant reduction of sleep hours that eventually affects cardiovascular and overall health. Among those are heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, and more.

But how are you dealing with this personal sleep issue? Moreover, nurses face several sources of stress and other pressure leading them to have sleep concerns.

As a nurse, it’s already a challenge to achieve your sleep meter, mainly when you work the night shift. So, finding effective ways to improve your sleep habit is excellent for anyone struggling, whether day or night shift nurses.

But first, a quick brush on the relation between heart health and sleep

How does sleep link with your heart health?

Good restful sleep has a direct connection to having a healthy heart. In addition, a healthy sleep schedule helps lower blood pressure. 

When insomnia3 strikes, your body reacts negatively, straining your heart’s ability to do its job. Chronic insomnia may keep your blood pressure higher and for more extended periods.

Lack of sleep raises hypertension, heart disease, stroke, heart attacks, and other health conditions. For example, a large study4 concluded that shorter sleep duration is linked to increased blood pressure and cardiovascular risk.

Furthermore, chronic diseases may be more challenging to manage with inadequate sleep. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)5, insufficient sleep has been linked to acquiring chronic diseases, including obesity, Type 2 diabetes, depression, and cardiovascular disease.

When nurses are sleep-deprived, they are prone to significant health blows such as fatigue6, having less concentration, not staying on task, becoming ill quickly, and can experience emotional distress at work or even at home.

It would be best if you had the benefit of a sound sleep schedule to help your entire body system recover, function well, and meet work demands.

Additionally, the cardiovascular system needs vital support to do its role, and it’s best to commit to significant changes in your sleeping habits to achieve that

How much sleep is enough? 

Adult recommended hours of sleep are between seven to nine hours. According to the American Sleep Association7, seven to eight hours are the best hours of sleep for most adults. However, it varies with many people as some may need 5 hours or 10 hours of sleep every day.

Although sleep changes with age, circumstances, and activity, the ability to achieve personalized sleep goals to improve heart health falls directly upon you. 

Have you ever heard of sleep debt? 

Per the CDC8, as the term sleep debt implies, not having enough sleep yesterday, your body will try to catch up on sleep hours, making you sleepier today and, in the long run, becomes a significant sleep deficit for you.

How does it affect the nurse? Nurses need alertness, optimal focus, and mental agility at work. That’s challenging enough with proper sleep. 

Your body will need to recuperate from a lack of or a lower amount of sleep. Getting too little sleep can lead to serious health events, such as medical errors, car accidents9, and other serious accidents.

Strive to replenish your sleep debt and prevent it from becoming a health issue. 

Tips for getting enough sleep as a nurse

  • Stay consistent with your bedtime hour. Strive for the same sleep time and wake-up time schedules. 
  • Mealtimes need to be within a few hours before sleep. Avoid alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine around late afternoon.
  • Aim to do regular exercise; 3-5 times a week.
  • Check your Vitamin D levels10.
  • Set the ambiance of your bedtime hour. Darken the room, comfortable house temperature, and quiet.
  • Sleep/NO Disturb Mode for electronic devices. Refrain from device scrolling at least 25-30 minutes before bedtime.
  • Try to adopt relaxation techniques to combat stress and reduce stress levels - mindful meditation11, breathing exercises, or practicing yoga. 

1- For night shift nurses

These strategies are in addition to the above sleep tips.

  • Remove any distractions such as lights/sounds during daytime sleep. Consider using an eye mask for blocking rays and noise-canceling earbuds.
  • Limit changes to hours of sleep/shift schedule.
  • Stick to caffeine use early on the shift.
  • Use blackout curtains around the bedroom. 
  • Skip non-urgent errands after a night shift.
  • Establish a consistent bedtime ritual. 
  • Minimize extra activities before sleeping.
  • Maximize your shift breaks with quick naps or relaxing stretching sessions.
  • For safety, take a short nap before driving home.

2- For night shift nurses with young children

Getting enough sleep while parenting young children can pose another challenge to nurses who work the night shift. 

A study12 reported on the sleep-stressor relationship for nurses with children. They found that nurses with children have a greater risk of linking stressors and poor sleep.

It’s hard to juggle personal and work life, especially as a night shift nurse. It dramatically impacts sleep and can be detrimental to you even when you are in your best health.

  • Try to let everyone in the household maintain a quiet environment. With small children, it may not be realistic at all.
  • Create a routine with your children in the morning when you arrive from night work. 
  • Seek strategies that work for your family around sleeping arrangements that ultimately give you the best hours of sleep. For example, you may block off time for a long nap with the little ones. 
  • You may have that elbow room to sneak in longer sleep with school-aged children. So make sure you get your shut-eye before school pick-ups and extracurriculars.
  • Get the support you need from your spouse or family members. You can even employ professional sitters for your children if preferred. 

Addressing the challenge of sleep for nurses and their heart health

Sleep impacts nurses’ health. The emphasis is that sleep loss can increase your risk of acquiring heart disease. 

Maintaining a healthy heart and getting good solid sleep can demand a significant overhaul in your lifestyle. Additionally, it will also require a significant commitment on your part to change something in the present that’s fueling sleep deprivation and unmanaged stress. 

Don’t wait until you are depleted, clocking into your shift drained, or risking your heart health in the long run by not getting enough sleep.

Instead, create and adapt strategies to reach your sleep goals toward improving your sleep meter and habits. Yes, we all have different personal circumstances, so tailor the change to what works.

Safe work conditions can positively support nurses, especially during these stressful times caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

You can voice your concern to the healthcare higher-ups when working conditions and staffing issues raise the bar of stress, burnout, and safety. Speak about your concerns that could impact your health or are already happening.

Last but not least, it’s time to address these sleep issues with your healthcare provider when other modalities and strategies for sleep aren’t working for you. 

Being proactive with your wellness, including sleep, helps you overcome personal and work-life challenges. Sleep also ensures you maintain your physical, mental, and emotional health as a nurse.

You can positively impact your overall heart health through your sleep habits now.


1Sleep Quality, Sleep Duration, and the Risk of Coronary Heart Disease: A Prospective Cohort Study With 60,586 Adults

2Sleep Recharges You

3Insomnia: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

4Objective short sleep duration and 24-hour blood pressure

5Sleep and Sleep Disorders

6The Effects of Fatigue and Sleepiness on Nurse Performance and Patient Safety

7What is Sleep and Why is It Important?

8Sleep Debt

9The Relationship between Nurse Work Schedules, Sleep Duration, and Drowsy Driving

10Vitamin D and Sleep Regulation: Is there a Role for Vitamin D?

11Mindfulness meditation: A research-proven way to reduce stress

12Daily associations between sleep and stressors in nurses with and without children

Jordan Nacalaban BSN RN MED-SURG-BC is a freelance health content writer specializing in medical-surgical, trauma-surgical, pain management, and chronic health conditions. Her significant nursing expertise and skills pave the way for developing health material that is engaging, factual, and well-researched.

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Kim Valentine, BSN, RN

3 Articles; 22 Posts

Specializes in Community Health, Care Coordination and Geriatrics.

Thanks for this article with such valuable information. Certainly shift work is a challenge to having a restful sleep but you bring up some good strategies to use. I used to “need” 8 hours of sleep a night but as I age, that number seems to drop where an 8 hour night is merely a “dream” 😉

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