The patient care work doesn’t end when the sun sets. The night shift presents unique challenges to your professional and personal routine. A 2019 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that 15% of wage-and-salary workers in the U.S. have irregular work schedules, and 4% of them regularly work night shifts.
The night shift may affect the circadian rhythm of your body, and this can have an impact on your cognition. Night shifts have several benefits, including a more relaxed pace and less supervision in hospitals. They also offer greater autonomy.
Nurse contributors share 12 tips to help you prepare for, manage, and thrive during your first night nursing shift.
How to thrive as a night shift nurse
You might worry about working all night when the rest of society is asleep if you have been assigned to work night-only shifts. You may have worked all night studying, or with your friends on occasion. But working an ongoing schedule at night is a completely different experience.
These 12 tips will help you succeed in your night shift job, whether you are a newbie or seasoned nurse.
Making Sleep Priority
While it may sound like commonsense, trying to fall asleep while everyone else is still awake can prove difficult. Your heart rate drops during sleep. You also experience a drop in energy expenditure and alterations to your hormones. Your brain’s activity is characterized by patterns that scientists have linked to memory consolidation and detoxification.
Prioritizing getting enough sleep every day can help you feel healthier and support your health. Melatonin is produced by your body at night in order to aid you with sleep. Your body stops producing melatonin when exposed to blue or bright lights, including those from your smartphone. This makes it harder to sleep and to stay asleep.
Sleeping during the day will interfere with your circadian clock, which determines when melatonin releases and is shut down. Latrina, a nurse-practitioner with years of expertise, shares some tips on how to make sleep a priority.
She says, “Really think of yourself as a baby and set yourself a schedule for sleep.” Blackout curtains, earplugs and eye masks will block any light and noise to help you get a good night’s sleep.
Keep to a Sleep Schedule
Shannyn McCauley, a licensed practical nursing who started her career as certified nursing assistant. She has found in her experience that introducing a schedule of sleep about a week prior to your first shift will help your body adapt more quickly.
She says, “Decide what your new sleep schedule will be. Also decide when you have to wake up in the morning for work.”
Then she continues: “Go to sleep and get up every morning at the same hour.” On your day off it can be tempting switch to a “normal” schedule. But the more you change the routine, the harder is becomes to stay awake and alert on the next workday.
Stay Moving at Night
You may have the hardest time staying awake in the early morning hours. Walden says that she finds it easier to stay alert when she moves around. If you get sleeping, get moving.
Some people nap during breaks, while others do not. She says that only you can decide.
It is also recommended that you go outside and breathe in the fresh night air for about a minute.
After the shift has ended, it is also true. It’s best to get things done immediately if you need something. You should make any necessary phone calls or run to the shop before you go to bed.
Maintain a Consistent Diet Schedule
It’s no secret that the nightshift can be hard on your waistline. The night-shift workers may consume more calories to keep awake and burn less energy. As University of Colorado Boulder researchers found, this increases weight gain risk.
When you are working night shifts, it is more important than ever that you maintain a healthy and consistent meal plan. Walden suggests eating a nutritious meal prior to your shift.
She says that eating foods high in fat will slow you down and make you feel tired. It can also affect your weight.
Prepare a healthy Snack for Energy
You may need a caffeine-rich snack to keep you awake at night. Walden suggests choosing a healthier caffeine option, like green tea or coffee instead of energy drinks. You should not drink this after 3 am, as you might have difficulty falling asleep at home.
The night-shift survival kit can help you minimize the insulin spikes in your blood and give fuel to your body. Consider packing a snack or light meal for your mid-shift breaks. Avoid junk food, especially high-carbohydrate foods like cake and donuts. These foods may provide a short-term boost but they don’t fuel the body properly.
You can choose bananas, veggies and hummus with yogurt or apples as your snacks for the night. A salad with roasted vegetables and chicken, yogurt, and granola, can also be a healthy light meal.
It is important to drink enough water in order to remain hydrated. This will help you maintain your body’s temperature, prevent infection and improve cognition.
Even just 2% of dehydration is enough to affect attention, memory and psychomotor abilities. Maintaining proper hydration can help with weight loss, detoxification and headaches. All of these are essential for nurses working the night shift.
Water requirements vary from person to person depending on the amount of water lost, what you eat, and your body weight. You can measure how hydrated you are by looking at the color of urine. You are likely dehydrated if your urine has a dark color and a strong smell. It should look like straw, a light-yellow color.
Planning is the key to success on a night shift. Planning is essential, no matter which aspect you are considering. Planning is required for all the following:
- Your sleep schedule
- Social interaction with friends
- Night shift nurses and dates
- Get business done.
It is helpful for some nurses to keep a regular schedule every week. You could, for example, go grocery shopping every Thursday and stay up late on Mondays to call businesses that are open in the morning.
You are the only one who can decide what days and times work for you. You must still plan in advance to get adequate sleep and eat healthy food so that you can nurse on night shift.
You can enjoy your night shift colleague’s company
Walden suggests making friends with night shift co-workers.
She says, “I will just say that night shifts usually have a stronger sense of teamwork on the floor. This part shouldn’t be difficult.”
Nursing is also difficult, she says. You can get help from your colleagues throughout the day and they will understand when you are having trouble staying awake. You can get advice from them about how to socialize with your friends while you are sleeping. You can use them as a sounding-board for encouragement and understanding.
Early Morning Rush
The morning rush is a shock to new night-shift nurses. After working all night long, the morning is a welcome relief. It’s suddenly here. Walden suggests that you plan ahead and do the necessary tasks before your day shift begins.
She says, “Mornings are always chaotic and fast.” If you plan ahead, it will help you avoid running around like an angry chicken.
You must learn to communicate your boundaries to friends and family.
You will be asleep during the day while the rest of society is awake. You may have to deal with your friends calling you in the middle of daytime, or your family needing to keep quiet when you are sleeping.
Walden suggests that you put yourself before others.
She says, “Rest is so important and it will always be at the top of your mind.”
Tell your family and friends how you will live differently when working night shift. While you sleep, turn off your phone. Consider putting a sign at your front door to let people know that you’re expecting packages and/or a large number of visitors.
Maintain a Regular Exercise Routine
Seen a pattern? Exercise is also a key part of night shift nursing. Exercise is vital for health. Nonexercise movements are those that you do not exercise. For adults and children, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourage regular exercise and physical activity.
If you can, adults should do 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise. They also need two days to strengthen their muscles. You can spread this out over five days, in increments of 30 minutes.
McCauley recommends that you move and exercise a lot at night, when you are feeling sleepy.
She says, “Walk through the halls or do some squats. Dance to your favorite music. Whatever gets your heart pumping.”
Remind Yourself of Self-Care
Night shift nurses must take care of themselves. You can avoid burnout by maintaining your motivation.
McCauley recommends establishing a decompression routine in the car or calming down after a shift. Listen to calming music or do yoga at home. You can also write in your journal.
You should have a regular bedtime routine to let your body know when it is time for sleep. Spend 10 minutes in the bath or reading a light book. Avoid watching TV and using your smartphone before bedtime. Stick to your sleep schedule.
Even if you work the night shift it doesn’t stop you from socializing. Keep in contact with family and friends. Your mental and emotional well-being depends on close relationships. Exercise regularly, if possible, to manage stress and practice mindfulness.
Stress can lead to headaches, insomnia, jaw pain and mood swings. Find something that you like to do every day. It could be reading a book or walking the dog.