Getting used to night shifts after spending your whole life in a normal circadian rhythm can be challenging. Compared to family and friends that work regular 9-5 jobs, it may seem as though you live in another world working your nursing night shift.
Night shift can create coffee-addicted zombies stumbling through life in a sleep-deprived daze. You don’t have to be one of those zombie nurses, however. With a little planning and preparation, you can break this cycle and not only survive but thrive on the night shift.
1. Get enough high-quality sleep
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.
Here are some suggestions to help improve the quality of your sleep:
- Monitor your caffeine intake while at work. Do not have any caffeine starting six hours before you plan sleep.
- Try unwinding with a warm bath after a shift.
- Make your environment as comfortable as possible using blackout curtains and eye masks to trick your body into thinking it is night time.
- Avoid screen time just before bed, 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 or 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.
Expert advice from nurses like you
2. Monitoring your health closely
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.
3. Bond with your co-workers
Spend time getting to know your fellow night shift crusaders. Building camaraderie on a team through celebrating triumphs and empathizing with common challenges fosters a healthier, less stressful work environment. Meaning you’ll feel more rested at the end of a long night shift.
4. Stay busy during your night shift
During the night shift, with most of your patients sleeping at one point or another, you have an opportunity to focus more on the patients who are awake. Being that nurse who is ready and able to give extra attention to patients in the middle could help them open up to you, giving you more insight into what may be going on with them. It can also make your night shift experience a more positive one.
In addition, use any downtime to get extra things (like stocking supplies, charting, etc.) done for the oncoming day shift staff. Staying busy will make the night time pass more quickly.
5. 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 safe and available. If you must drive, take alternate routes home to not cruise on autopilot home and make sure to drive defensively.
6. Strike a healthy work-home balance
With the nature of the night shift, it is easy to feel as if you are becoming isolated from family and friends. Mainintaining a healthy work-life balance is crucial. Night shift nurses must work hard at maintaining relationships. Keep in touch when you can via text, email, or phone calls.
Here are a few suggestions to help ensure a regular night shift doesn’t interfere negatively with home life:
- 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.
Using these tips, you can adjust and see why so many nurses love working the night shift and not simply survive it. The typical slower pace of working nights, along with the close-knit family-like team developed on the night shift, can add quality to your professional life.
By using 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 you can conquer and take steps toward conquering the nursing night shift.