The Importance of Sleep for Healthcare Workers

With World Sleep Day just around the corner, we thought it would be a great idea to celebrate the importance of sleep and highlight its importance for health workers. The theme for World Sleep Day this year – Sleep is Essential for Health is a topic well worth exploring. Getting enough sleep is essential for good health. Sleeping well is as crucial for positive health and well-being as nutritious food and exercise, yet work and busy lifestyles often compromise sleep quality and quantity. This article considers why sleep should be a priority for healthcare workers and offers helpful tips on getting a good night’s sleep.


Why is sleep so important?

Since sleep is a natural process, its value is often taken for granted. Let us take a closer look at why this restorative function is so important.

Sleep lets your body and mind relax and switch off

During sleep, your muscles relax, giving aches and pains a chance to heal. Blood flow to muscle increases, and oxygen and nutrients are carried to cells to help repair them. Tissue growth and cellular regeneration take place. While sleep is essential for fitness enthusiasts, healthcare workers that work long shifts and are very active at work need good sleep quality.

Boosts your immune system

During sleep, your body produces cytokines that help fight disease and increase resistance to illness. If your immune system is already weakened and you are unwell, sleep will help to boost your recovery. 

Lowers blood pressure

During sleep, your blood pressure lowers. Sleeping can help regulate stress hormones, positively affecting the nervous system. Insomnia and lack of sleep have been linked to higher blood pressure which is associated with heart disease, strokes, and other complications.

Raises energy levels

General fatigue is often relieved by a good night’s sleep. Good quality sleep has been proven to boost energy levels. Although energy levels are linked to sleep rhythms and stages, they are also due to the body’s balanced levels of glycogen and adenosine.  

Regulates insulin levels

Sleep deprivation causes fluctuations in hormone production and reduces insulin sensitivity. As a result, people often feel hungrier after a poor night’s sleep and are more likely to snack and eat more carbohydrates. In the long term, this can lead to obesity.

Improves memory and concentration

Persistent lack of sleep is linked to minor cognitive defects such as decision-making problems and difficulty concentrating. Processing new information when sleep-deprived can be very challenging. Good quality sleep will help improve mindfulness, mental alertness, and memory consolidation.

Boosts your mood

Sleep and mood are linked. Good quality sleep will help you feel calmer and more relaxed. Irritability and lack of patience are more pronounced when you are sleep deprived. While occasional sleep deprivation will not harm you, prolonged periods of insomnia may aggravate anxiety and depression.


Why healthcare workers often suffer from sleeplessness

Although healthcare workers often do stressful jobs requiring mental alertness and high concentration levels, they are also likely to be sleep deprived. Irregular working patterns, nightshifts, emotionally demanding roles, and a stressful work environment are contributing factors. Healthcare workers often fulfill caregiving roles at home, which means their workload is relentless, leaving them feeling drained and exhausted.


How can management support healthcare staff?

While insufficient sleep may harm staff health and well-being, it is also linked to impaired work performance. Safety is paramount in healthcare, so reducing risks and errors is important. It is essential to support healthcare workers and address sleeplessness issues in the workplace. The following suggestions may be worth considering:

  • Management in healthcare teams can raise awareness of the importance of sleep by providing literature and reminders of the importance of sleep in the workplace.
  • Companies may organise workshops on mindfulness and meditation during the working day to help staff manage issues around sleep and relaxation.
  • Make staff aware of meditation apps or provide subscriptions to apps to support them. Highlight tips for promoting sleep and put them up in the workplace.
  • Provide a quiet, well-ventilated space where staff can have naps or just relax at work during breaks. Advise staff to inform management if they are struggling with sleep deprivation so that measures can be taken. Shifts may be shortened or juggled to accommodate fatigued staff.


Top tips for boosting sleep

There are easy steps you can take that might help improve your sleeping patterns. Consider trying the ideas below to optimise your sleep:

Go to bed and get up at the same time. This will train your body to sleep better. Develop a simple bedtime ritual that you enjoy. Make yourself a chamomile tea or mug of warm milk. Try listening to soothing music while you drift off.

Disconnect completely for up to an hour before you turn in. All too often, the quick email check or message you need to send at bedtime turns into 30+ minutes of googling and your brain will then be too stimulated to switch off. Get into the habit of turning off your device and reading instead.

Invest in a top-quality mattress if you don’t have one already. It’s definitely worth the expense and you will spend 26 years of your life in bed! Consult a sleep professional and get a recommendation for the type of mattress that will suit your body type and lifestyle. Many shops offer a trial period now with mattresses, so spend time on this important purchase.

Buy comfortable cotton sheets and the best pillows and pillowcases you can afford. Make your bedroom a sleep sanctuary. Try something new like a satin pillowcase or a pillow spray. Ensure your bedroom is clutter-free and welcoming with soft lighting and good ventilation. Take time to pamper yourself with a warm bath or indulge in a foot soak, it really is worth it.

Try using earplugs and an eye mask, especially if your environment is noisy. Blackout curtains and blinds can be a good solution as the mornings and evenings brighten. 

Exercise before you go to bed. A gentle walk or some stretching can be a great way to unwind before bedtime. Avoid vigorous exercises like running or weight training, as an intense activity may keep you awake instead. 

Avoid the temptation of nodding off on the sofa in front of your favourite show. You may wake up abruptly and then find it impossible to sleep once you go to bed.

Keep a journal beside your bed and write down any negative thoughts or worries that are keeping you awake. If you really cannot sleep, it might be an idea to get up and make a caffeine-free hot drink or read a book for a while. 


Investing in your own health and well-being is one of the best things you can do for yourself and is a wonderful example to others. Sleep is a necessity. Take time to look after yourself. You’re worth it.

If you’re interested in agency work with a professional agency, contact Access Healthcare for more information.