By Crystal Norris, R.N.
Getting used to night shifts after spending your whole life in normal circadian rhythm can be tough. Compared to family and friends that work regular 9-5 jobs, it may seem as though you live in another world. Night shift is known to create coffee-addicted zombies stumbling through life in a sleep-deprived daze. You don’t have to be one of those zombie nurses, though. With a little planning and preparation, you can break this cycle and not only survive, but thrive on night shift.
The most crucial factor in surviving your night shifts is getting enough high-quality sleep. Train your body to fall asleep properly by establishing a bedtime routine and sticking to that routine as often as possible. Monitor your caffeine in-take while at work. Do not have any caffeine starting six hours before you plan to try to sleep. Come home after your shift and unwind with a warm bath. Make your environment as comfortable as possible using blackout curtains and eye masks to trick your body into thinking it is night time.
A good tip is to make your sleeping environment 2-3 degrees cooler than you are usually comfortable with to help with the quality of sleep. Avoid screen time as the blue light from electronics interferes with circadian rhythm, making it harder to fall and stay asleep. Eating an easy-to-digest meal will curb hunger and may allow you to sleep longer. Your goal is to get at least 7-9 hours of quality sleep before/after a night shift. If you are unable to do that right away, that’s okay! Just keep at it with that goal in mind.
Get Home Safely
Working a long night shift and driving home can be dangerous. If you can, carpool with other nurses and have a conversation with the driver on your way home. Use public transportation if available. If you must drive, take alternate routes home so you do not drive on autopilot home and drive defensively. Wear sunglasses so your body becomes less aware of the daylight.
Monitor Your Health
Night shift is not only hard on our sleep pattern, but also our bodies in general. Night shift nurses have higher risks of insomnia, daytime fatigue, high blood pressure, diabetes, menstrual problems, colds, and weight gain compared to their day shift counterparts. Listen to your body, even if your brain disagrees. Sleep when you need sleep. Eat when you are hungry. Keep up with regular doctor visits and address any health issues you have head-on.
Bond With Your Co-Workers
Spend time getting to know your fellow night shift crusaders. Camaraderie fosters trust and bonding. Get to know each other by celebrating their triumphs and empathizing their struggles. Always be there to lend a hand. The tighter your bond - the more you can trust each other during a crisis on the unit and the better you will work as a team.
During night shift with most of your patients sleeping at one point or another, you can focus on patients while they’re awake one-on-one. Being that nurse that helps your patient in the middle of the night could help patients open up to you, giving you more insight into what may be going on with them. Also use any downtime to get extra things done (like stocking supplies, making charts, etc.) done for the oncoming day shift staff.
Healthy Work/Home Balance
With the nature of night shift, it is easy to feel as if you are becoming isolated from family and friends. Night shift nurses must really work hard at maintaining relationships. Keep in touch when you can via text, email, or phone calls. Make a “command center” in your home to keep up with activities that are going on with your family. Couples can look forward to a scheduled weekly date night to catch up with each other. Plan a family fun day on your day off to spend time with your children. Work to nurture these relationships and show the people in your life that they are important to you.
Using these tips, you can adjust and see the reason so many nurses love working night shift. The typical slower pace of working nights, along with the close-knit family-like team developed on night shift can add quality to your professional life. Use effective planning to balance your day-to-day commitments, sleeping when you need to sleep, keeping track of your health, and bond with your team to conquer and thrive the night shift.
Crystal Lynn Norris RN - Crystal has been a Registered Nurse specializing in Labor & Delivery for the past three years. Her favorite part of her profession is being able to help women to find their strength bringing new life into the world. Crystal is a wife and mother to her sweet daughter Ruby. In her free time, she enjoys writing, traveling, and spending time with family.