Use this routine to get better sleep tonight

By Physician Sense
Published February 3, 2020

Key Takeaways

Beginning in your residency days, you started thinking of sleep as an afterthought. It’s something your patients should do, but not something you require. You might want to reframe that thought and realize that improving the quantity and quality of your sleep is something you owe to your patients. It will help you stay sharper, sustain your energy levels throughout your hectic day, and possibly promote better brain health into old age. Improving your sleep will make you a better doctor for your patients.

Better sleep begins with better sleep habits. Many of us unwittingly sabotage our sleep throughout the day and at night. Here’s how to create a more sleep-conducive routine.

Be mindful of sun exposure

A great night’s sleep starts in the morning with exposure to the sun (for doctors on a more conventional schedule). Physicians who work overnight and sleep during the day will want to purchase blackout curtains and a good sleep mask. Doctors who work more traditional hours, however, may want to get as much safe sun exposure during the day as possible. As Harvard’s Division of Sleep Medicine explains, retinal photoreceptor cells communicate with the brain, letting it know whether it’s day or night. Taking daytime breaks to get natural sunlight in your eyes (don’t stare directly into it!) and limiting light exposure at night will help keep your internal clock running on schedule.

Exercise during the day

The added energy expenditure of exercise is a fantastic way to promote sleep. However, you may want to confine your exercise to the daytime. According to the Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep, we know that moderate aerobic exercise leads to increases in slow-wave, restorative sleep stages. There’s also an added benefit of mood stabilization. However, some might find that exercising late in the day makes it difficult or impossible to sleep. This could be because of the increased metabolic demand that exercise creates. 

Put work behind you

Many of us have had the experience of being home in body but not in mind. We might be sitting at the dinner table, replaying a conversation with a superior that went sideways, or worrying about the packed schedule we’re facing tomorrow. Doctors who take call have the added stress of knowing that their reverie might be interrupted at any moment. Having a ritual that separates you from work will help prevent this stress from creeping in. We know that ritual sounds pretty woo-woo and new-agey, but hear us out. This can be something simple and discreet that won’t make your significant other and/or kids think you’re crazy. Dike Drummond, The Happy M.D., recommends this: When you park your car in your driveway, say to yourself (silently or out loud), “With this breath, I’m coming all the way home.” Draw in a deep breath and let it go, along with any concerns about work. And once you’re all the way home, if you can, put your work email away for the night.

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