Night shift nurse: best ways to handle off days and improve cortisol levels?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created February 14, 2013 at 7:07 PM

So, I work 3 twelve hour night shifts a week. Normally they are all in a row. The night before they start I usually stay up til 1 or 2 in the morning or nap before the day of. I get off work at 7:30, try to be in bed by 8:30 am and get 8 full hours before getting up and maybe doing a short workout and doing it all over again. After my last night of work, I usually only sleep about 5 hours so that I can (hopefully) go to bed at a reasonable hour that night and try to adjust back for my off-days. Even though there's not much hope for a drastic change in sleeping patterns every week, I try to be as consistent as possible and usually stay up til 1 or 2 am most nights.

I take melatonin, wear an eye mask, have a fan, and wear ear plugs. I feel slightly better now that I have the same 3 days of work every week. I also just upped my intake of fish oils and vitamin D.

After night shifts I am exhausted and have no trouble sleeping 8 hours plus. But I often have trouble with waking up at random hours of the night and not being able to go back to bed.

Let me just say that Wednesdays I am pretty much useless after 5 hours of sleep. Usually I still try to work out. Is that bad? I'm fully aware that this is not optimal, but I'm stuck with it for the time being. I'm trying my best to be as healthy as possible given the hand of cards I've been dealt, so any suggestions on how to counteract the high cortisol levels that have most likely been produced by this would be helpful. Also, is there a lab test for this that might be helpful if I want to experiment with my sleep schedule?



on February 15, 2013
at 06:23 AM


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on February 14, 2013
at 07:26 PM

I'm kind of in your situation, and I've found that drinking herbal teas that are meant to help you relax help a lot with sleeping. There's one brand called Traditional Medicinals that makes a Sleep Aid tea that tastes pretty good. That might help you to sleep through the night better.

The other thing I would recommend is on your last day when you try to sleep for only five hours, stop doing that. Let your body get as much rest as it needs. I've found that on my days off, if I let my body wake up on its own, I feel better throughout the day and can sleep better the next night, than if I am jolted awake by an alarm clock.

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