A full night’s sleep is a necessity, not a luxury, yet many people place sleep at the end of their priority list. Rather than seeing it as restorative, they think it takes up precious time to be productive. Many proudly proclaim, “You can sleep when you’re dead,” but ignoring healthy sleep habits can actually bring people closer to that end. Insufficient sleep is so pervasive in the United States that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers it a public health epidemic.

What the Research Tells Us

The average adult needs at least seven hours of sleep per night, yet more than one-third of adults are sleep deprived. Getting less than the required amount of sleep may increase risk for obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, mental distress, and all-cause mortality.

Various sleep theories and measurable evidence support that sleep gives the body time to repair and replete cellular components for optimal biologic functioning, and it gives the mind time to organize its neural structure and growth. Muscle repair, tissue growth, protein synthesis, and release of important growth hormones occur primarily during sleep.

Among nurses working shifts, studies have shown that 30%–70% sleep less than six hours before their shift. Lack of adequate sleep may reduce a nurse’s ability to learn, remember, use sound judgment, focus effectively, and perform tasks safely, contributing to the potential for medication errors, negligent patient care, and accidents. One study of sleep-deprived intensive care unit nurses found that 27% reported errors, 38% reported “almost errors,” and 20% fell asleep at least once during a 28-day period.

How to Practice

Sleeping better at night takes deliberate action. Here are some tips to improve your sleep quality and duration:

  • Think of sleep as just another important task of the day and plan for it on your calendar.
  • Create an atmosphere in your bedroom that encourages restful sleep, including keeping an ideal temperature (cooler is better), soft lighting, and a comfortable mattress and pillows.
  • Turn off smartphones, tablet computers, and televisions at least 30 minutes before sleep. The blue light they emit suppresses melatonin production that you need to help fall asleep.
  • Make time to exercise during the day. Aim for the recommended amount of exercise, about 150 minutes per week.
  • Stay away from caffeine, alcohol, or any other foods that might disrupt your sleep quality or upset your stomach before bed.
  • If you’re working night shifts, use blackout curtains when trying to sleep during the day. Stick to a schedule, and let your family and friends know so they do not try to contact you when you’re sleeping.