4 Tips on How to Survive Working the Night Shift in Health Care
We know our computers mess up our circadian rhythms for sleeping. But do you know what else can keep you up at night? The night shift. Working the night shift definitely is not for everyone. But there are some big benefits if you learn to hang out with the night owls of the nursing world. If you find yourself new in your career, or if you’ve recently decided to take up a new night shift, here are some tips and tricks to help you get through it!
Benefits of Working the Night Shift
The night shift usually comes with a pay differential but that’s not the only benefit. Unless you’re in the ER, the night shift can be a less demanding time for nurses. Most patients are sleeping and so are their families. There are no navigating questions from family members in most units overnight. This, along with the fact that most patients are comfortably sleeping, makes the night shift a less stressful alternative to daytime work. With that said, it can take time to teach your body to acclimate to staying up into the wee hours. This next section will give you some tips on how to set yourself up for success.
Getting used to your first nights as a new night shift worker can be hard. Try these tips to improve your adjustment period:
Get a full 8 hours of sleep before your shift.
Especially at first. Invest in some good blackout curtains to make sure the sun doesn’t interrupt your slumber. Your goal is to establish a steady routine where you gradually come down from work and are asleep within a couple of hours after you get home (or immediately if you can swing it). This probably means no caffeine after 3:00 am for most people. You should avoid checking the computer when you get home, too. (Remember what we said about your circadian rhythms?) Maybe take a warm bath or shower after every shift. Get your comfy jammies on. Read a book in bed. Whatever routine tells your body it’s time to come down from the job. Establish this as your new bedtime normal and you’ll be less likely to crash after your first few night shifts.
Organize your schedule around prioritizing healthy habits.
Eating healthy on the night shift takes some preparation. Make sure you’re avoiding sugar-filled foods and soda, which can be tempting for the quick rush they provide when you’re tired. Try to exercise either before or after your shift. For example, doing yoga when you get home after work can slow down your breathing and center you for sleep. Or, to wake up in the afternoon in preparation for your shift, get outside and exercise. We know night shift nurses can be prone to illnesses and weight gain. Why? Because you’re walking around less and burning fewer calories. Make sure you’re taking extra care to stay healthy before, during, and after your shift.
Stay busy during the night shift.
It will keep you from getting sleepy. Try spending time with the patients who are awake. Or, if there are special projects that your nurse manager needs done, sign up. The idea is, even if the shift is slow (as we mentioned, this is a big plus) that you are staying busy. Stocking supplies, charting, and more, can all be done to prep for the day shift.
This is the trick if you work the night shift. You don’t want your late hours to disrupt the rest of the family. You also don’t want to isolate yourself from them. Try to work in a routine, perhaps, where you’re packing the kid’s lunch before school or picking them up before you leave for work. Use your days off wisely to hang out with your friends and family. Use texting and email, Zoom, and phone calls, to be there even when you’re not.
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