Anyone who has ever struggled with sleep issues knows how frustrating it can be to crave sleep but not get it. So how do ER doctors, who have to switch from morning to night shifts and back again, still manage to get enough rest to, you know, save lives. If you're on the hunt for ways to either get or optimize your ZZZ's, check out these sleeping tips from ER doctors, because let's face it, they're basically catnap ninjas.
I've struggled with insomnia most of my adult life, and I also know all too well the sleep deprivation that comes with having a new baby. I knew if anyone could understand my plight, it had to be doctors, who, at any moment's notice need to be on their A game. They are oftentimes deal with life or death, after all. "I never thought about sleep before this line of work, I just went to bed at night and woke up in the morning. Now, every day of my life is set up around a sleep plan that is in constant flux," explains Charles Leder, MD, board certified emergency medicine physician at MCHS Franciscan Healthcare, in an interview with Romper.
So what sleep hygiene habits can we learn from experts like Leder? Here are five hacks that might help you, too.
1. Quiet Your Mind
On top of demanding schedules, ER doctors work in high-stress environments. It's interesting then to understand how they unwind after a shift.
"If my thoughts are still racing when I get home, I will jot down a quick entry in my shift journal. It helps me offload the cognitive burden," says Leder.
Many insomniacs know what it's like to have worries from the day keep them up at night. Journaling can help transfer that worry to the page. One recent study, published in Journal of Experimental Psychology, found that a specific kind of journaling is particularly beneficial for "offloading" stress. The study found that writing a to-do list five minutes before bed helped participants fall asleep significantly faster.
So, if you're struggling to fall asleep, writing about the tasks you need to do may actually be the answer.
2. Don't Underestimate Fresh Air And Exercise
Another thing Dr. Leder finds helpful for promoting good sleep is good old-fashioned fresh air and exercise. "I'll even bundle up and go for a brisk walk around the neighborhood at 3 a.m. in sub-zero weather," explains Leder.
There's evidence that shows that exercise not only helps you fall asleep faster, but also help you achieve more quality sleep, according to Charlene Gamaldo, M.D., medical director of Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep at Howard County General Hospital, in an interview with John Hopkins Medical.
However, the timing of that exercise is important. "Individuals should exercise at least 1 to 2 hours before going to bed, giving endorphin levels time to wash out and the brain time to wind down,” explained Gamaldo in the same John Hopkins article.
3. Perfect The Conditions (As Much As Possible)
For ER doctors working the night shift, sleeping during odd hours is a must, but one that is easier said that done, "With shift work, I'm always in either artificial light at work, or artificial darkness trying to sleep during the day," Leder explains.
Indeed, light exposure can dramatically affect one's circadian physiology, according to a study published in Sleep Medicine. That's why setting up a quiet and dark environment is vital for getting good quality sleep during the day, explains Emergency Physicians Monthly.
For that reason, investing in some good blackout shades and or a quality sleep mask seems like a smart move if you're struggling in the sleep department.
4. Timing Is Everything When It Comes To Naps
When a solid night's (or day's) sleep doesn't occur — whether because your baby was crying or your thoughts were racing — the prospect of a nap becomes mighty appealing.
However, naps might not be the best thing for you, especially if they occur too late in the day, when they might affect your nighttime sleep schedule, or too early in the day, when your body may not be ready for the additional sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF).
5. Keep Naps Short
If the timing is right for a nap, it's natural to want to lean into that idea hard. But, it's actually not a good idea to snooze too long.
"I try not to nap, as it really messes up my sleep architecture. But when I have to, I keep it short, setting an egg timer for 20 or 30 minutes," Leder says.
Why limit yourself? A brief, 20-30 minute nap is best for short-term alertness, according to the NSF. "This type of nap provides significant benefit for improved alertness and performance without leaving you feeling groggy or interfering with nighttime sleep."
Even if your sleep schedule isn't quite as influx as an ER doctor's, it could help implementing some of their strategies. I know I will.
After experiencing a traumatic c-section, this mother sought out a doula to support her through her second child’s delivery. Watch as that doula helps this mom reclaim the birth she felt robbed of with her first child, in Episode Three of Romper's Doula Diaries, Season Two, below. Visit Bustle Digital Group's YouTube page for more episodes, launching Mondays in December.