4 Essential Tips For Surviving Your Night Shift

Although the duties and responsibilities are no different for a nurse that works after the sun is down, the night shift (or shift work) does present unique challenges. The workplace atmosphere and schedule related to the night shift requires a nurse to make significant adjustments to his or her daily routine and personal life. With the majority of patients asleep during the late shift, nurses must also find ways to manage what is considered a less busy (or less stressful) workload in between the continuous monitoring of patients throughout the night.

While shifts vary according to a healthcare facility or hospital, the typical night shift is between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. Some nurses may start a shift as early as 8:00 p.m. At the end of a night shift, nurses return home where they usually rest and rejuvenate in the early hours of the day. Unfortunately, sleeping throughout the day is sometimes difficult to achieve. Once awake, a night nurse often tends to their personal life, and then remains up until it’s time for their next shift.

Learning how to adapt to a different sleep schedule is one of the hardest obstacles that a night shift nurse must overcome – especially since their sleeping pattern is one that is in reverse to the majority of the population, including their family and friends.

Below are our 4 Essential Tips For Surviving Your Night Shift

1. Make Sure To Sleep

One of the biggest challenges for a night shift nurse is the long evening hours will disrupt your natural patterns of sleep. Make plans to create an environment conducive to sleep - use curtains to keep your room dark, turn off phones, electronics, and other devices which might interrupt your sleep.

We all know how difficult it is to get back to sleep once you've been woken up.

When at home, sleep should be a priority for night shift nurses. According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), night shift nurses should keep the same bedtime and wake time schedule (even on weekends); use eye masks and ear plugs to eliminate noise and lights from a sleep environment; as well as avoid consuming alcohol and caffeinated beverages/foods close to bedtime.

2. Eat Healthy

The meals and snacks a nurse selects before and during the night shift can have a significant effect on energy, stamina, and performance levels. It is important to choose the items that provide energy but do not cause sleepiness or a ‘crash-and-burn’ effect later on in the shift.

Adopting a ‘grazing’ approach towards eating while working the night shift is also suggested, meaning a nurse consumes smaller, more frequent light meals with raw salads, nuts, fruit, and vegetables. Opt for well-balanced meals that include high-protein, complex carbohydrate, and low-fat foods [1].

3. Watch Your Health

Working the night shift can have a detrimental effect on a nurse both physically and mentally if he or she does not effectively monitor their health. The NSF reports shift workers face a higher risk of experiencing insomnia, daytime sleepiness, high blood pressure, diabetes, menstrual irregularities, colds, and weight gain than day shift employees.

4. Exercise to Stay Alert

Nurses who work the night shift tend to experience the most fatigue and drowsiness around 4 a.m., and should avoid completing the most tedious or monotonous tasks during that time.

The NSF suggests engaging in a bit of exercise as a way to fight back when a feeling of fatigue starts to take over during the night shift. Staying active during breaks is an effective way to reboot energy levels, and may include taking a walk to the cafeteria, climbing a set of stairs, dancing to a song on the radio in the break room, or shooting hoops in the hospital parking lot.