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May I have your attention, please? The hospital will be closing shortly.

closed-sign-on-hospital
zager + LuisALouro | iStock | Thinkstock

Ahhh. Doors shut. Lights off. Hospital closed for the night.

If only this were true. (Insert dream sequence…)

We all know the hospital doesn’t function like the local town store with posted Store Hours. The hospital never closes. It operates in some capacity 365 days a year, 24 hours a day (and yes 366 days a year on leap year). We don’t even have holiday hours. The doors are always open. Some departments may not be operating during certain times, but as a whole, the facility is always open for business.

This hits home for the nursing staff. Nurses who work for the hospital are required to work at all hours of the day, working odd shifts and functioning at times of the day – times of the day when the normal human being is sleeping.

Yes, I’m talking about the dreaded ‘Night Shift’ or the ‘NOC’ as some like to call it. It’s the shift that can start anywhere after 6pm and last till 8am the next day. While civilians are sleeping, many of us nurses have to work.

Now this is not unique to the field of nursing, or even to health care. There are many occupations out there that work and operate on a 24-hour schedule. I’m simply referring to my lil’ circle of life.

The night shift is hard. Well, at least hard for me. There are some out there that do this on a full-time basis. They live their lives when the sun goes down. I tip my hat to all of them, because without them, we as a society would not, and could not function.

I myself loathe the night shift simply because my body and my mind seem to …uhh…shut down during those hours. No matter how hard I try to prepare I always seem to end up half-empty.

I know all the tricks. I’ve done the research. I’ve asked the questions. I’ve taken tips from the experts. No matter how I handle it, no matter how I plan. I always have a difficult time functioning on the night shift.

The source of my pain? My sleeping pattern. I am an extremely light sleeper. Let me be clear – there is such a thing as a “light sleeper.” Then there is me.

You name it, it wakes me up. The wind, the dog barking down the street, cars driving by the house, rain, etc. Every noise wakes me up. I even have a story about how a kitten walking into a carpeted bedroom woke me up (true story).

Here are the things I do to enhance my odds of sleeping during the day:

• I cover the bedroom windows with cardboard (not a speck of light gets in)
• I play soothing background music
• I turn off the TV
• I make the temperature in the room is just ‘cool’ – not too warm
• I try to have nothing to eat or drink an hour before shut-eye
• I limit my caffeine in the three hours before bed
• I silence all the gadgets in the house (the phones especially)

NOC is a necessary evil I know I have to accept. But accepting it and liking it are two different things! I’ll continue to do my part, but trust me. I’m gonna keep on whining about it

Anyone have a tip or trick that helps you survive the night shift?

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13 Responses to May I have your attention, please? The hospital will be closing shortly.

  1. As the former girlfriend of a “NOC”-er, I love this post Sean! I remember the days of bedroom windows covered with any and all bedsheets, blankets and what-have-yous to create a pitch black sleeping environment. …And I should admit, my ex (now my best friend) would probably have added : “Silence all obstinate girlfriends who want to go “do something” ” to your list…. 😉

  2. Sean Dent Scrubs Blogger

    @ sharon woah.. I could not even imagine! Definitely a ‘DO NOT BOTHER’ sign. LOL

  3. Eva

    I’ve been and NOCer for …..ever. Since 1990 I’ve only worked day shift for about 4 or 5 years scattered here and there. It helps that I’ve always been a night owl but no matter what you do or how you try to prepare, after 3am the brain is numb. Doesn’t matter how used to it you are, how much or little sleep you’ve had. There’s usually a really really hard 30-40 minute period and then you think you are ok but real cracker jack critical thinking is sluggish at best. That’s why my colleges and I in my unit, make sure that we check and double check and ask questions frequently during that time. Nothing is considered a stupid question after…. well midnight really but after 4 we really try to make sure we are a support team for one another. The worst part about it is that the hospital is being run on a skeleton crew at night anyway so you don’t have all the safety nets in place that day shift has but your brain, no matter what you do, does not function at night like it does in the day. There’s too much research that proves it.
    And then Dr.’s and the day shift nurses pop in and glibly flick the lights on that you had to turn off to keep patients from getting ICU psychosis as quickly as if they are waking you up from a nap. It really makes my blood boil when a certain pulmonologist does this and adds the words, “Wake up everybody.” We are awake, thank you. As awake as anyone can be at the end of a 12H night shift. And then the day shift nurses in report look at you like you’re an idiot if it takes a few extra seconds for a word to come to you. Those same nurses who run screaming if the manager asks them to pull a night shift.

  4. Sean Dent Scrubs Blogger

    @ Eva I could give you a big hug and a strong ‘high-five’. A perfect description. Thanks for sharing.

  5. NurseElektra

    I work the night shift, and actually prefer it to days. I get to see my family more and I get to actually have a life. My secret to sleeping well is no caffeine except before midnight. Then I drink plenty of water to flush it out of my system. Then, I spend 45 mins doing cardio after work, at the gym. Since I started doing this routine, I sleep like a log. I am usually a light sleeper also, but this really has worked for me!! I also try to have off at least one day between shifts to help me recover. And, while at work I try to eat super healthy with good amounts of protein and veggies, with little carbs or sugar. I have been one of those people who NEVER ate right or exercised, and I feel so much more rested and have less aches/pains, and less trouble with my sleeping patterns since I have started with all the above.

  6. rshevzov

    I currently work on a very small (5 bed) outpatient recovery unit and there are times where we only have one or two pts who end up spending the night, then pre-op comes in at 6am and complains about how we aren’t jumping in there to bring pts back for them or help them out at all (but of course it’s never said to us/in front of us). So, I can attest to the fact that night shift is hard and after 4am you just can’t function, much less go help out another area that does things so totally different from what you do at night! It doesn’t help that the few times I’ve tried to help I spend so much time looking for things that the primary nurse needs to come find me and by that time they could have done it themselves! And most of it is from lack of brain function after a long 12 hr shift!!!

    Gotta love night shift!!

  7. MaggieM RN

    My survival technique is to “turn my shift around.” Simply put, I do exactly what I would do if I were on the day shift. Use the techniques to darken the daylight hours (this is my night time), shower, coffee and breakfast when I get up, and lunch at midnight. And since I do 12 hour shifts, I’m lucky that the news is on when I get up for either shift! It’s routine that makes the difference for me!

  8. IceyMcLyons

    I’m a new night shift nurse in a nursing home and night shift is super hard on your body. My black-out curtains, bed warmer, and my dogs all ensure I get good sleep when I get home =) I know I am a new nurse, but am I the only one getting out of work as late as 12:30 the next day? I am still having a heck of a time getting my med pass down to the two-hour requirement.

  9. iNurse24

    I work for a staffing agency, and usually get second and third shift. Sometimes the second to third shift doubles and for me, it’s a mental thing. I have routines set, to where I prep my meds early (We are allowed to do it at the facility I cover) And I go in order by room. When I get fatigued with driving. I stop, get out side (Even in zero below weather) walk a few circles around the car. When I get home, the cell goes on DND, and the curtains go black. When I wake up, I try to go back to bed at my normal time.

  10. lybliss

    I only work night shift, I prefer it. My tips are – put a note on the front door stating “Night shift worker sleeping, DO NOT knock” (obviously only in a safe neighbourhood), try to minimise fluids the last 2 hrs before bed and avoid the temptation to drink tons of caffeine heavy drinks on the shift, you’ll be up peeing every hour when you desperately need to sleep. Ear plugs are a beautiful thing and help block out distracting day time noises, I use soft foam plugs and they really help in creating a quiet space. Take the phone off the hook. A very warm shower can help relax you and get you into sleep mode, and always put on your regular sleep wear, If it feels like a normal bed time, you are more likely to get a decent few hours sleep

  11. breehat

    I prefer working nights than daytime. Less stressful, less demanding patients, less drama, better for my health. I say it’s better for my health because I have no trouble sleeping during the day. I really don’t drink coffee or caffeine -induced drinks, and I put lavender-eucalyptus oil over my body before sleeping, I have pitch-dark blue curtains, my bedroom wall is painted in dark blue, and I cover my ears with earplugs. Plus, I only work 3 nights 12 hours each. The rest of the week is snoozing and just enjoying my free time.

  12. kjkamk RN

    The lights on thing drives me crazy. It literally hurts when they turn them on!

  13. Nocturnal8

    I choose to work nights. I am a night babe by nature so it works out good. My bedroom is dark and cool. My pets have adapted to my life style. The only thing I miss living in a smaller town is 24 hour grocery shopping. Nite people have a certain attitude. We all pitch in to get things done because we know that we are it! Unfortunately our administration seems to think that the hospital is 9-5. They seem to forget that we need staff too and that those all important meetings that are mandatory are always scheduled in the middle of my nite!

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