The night shift is a beast of sorts that many nurses need to conquer fresh out of nursing school. This is because new-grad day shifts are usually hard to come by (think specialty nursing). Also, many nurses end up working nights at some point in their career. Fresh out of school, I dreaded working nights, and while I would still like to try out working “normal” hours, NOC has worked out better than I expected.
I’ve found a few tricks that have made nights work for me—and I’d thought I’d share them:
1.) I’ve learned what works for me shift-schedule wise. I’ve tried working three 12’s in a row, then had a day or two off, then worked another three. What I’ve found is that I was so “turned around” that I was unable to flip back to a day schedule. Maybe I’m just getting old? I don’t know, but my 7-8 day stretches ended up being pretty miserable. By the time I got myself back on a day schedule, I was back to work. In my experience people who love to keep a permanent night schedule outside of the hospital do well with long stretches of shifts. I now break my nights up—working one, then off one, then working two, etc. Every once in a while I throw in a three-shift stretch so I can have some time off.
2.) Finally, I’ve found a way to sleep. I am a light sleeper—so my bedroom is super dark, I use white noise (a fan on high works great for me) and I make sure I have no interruptions during the day. I ideally get 6 hours of sleep on days between shifts. This keeps me sane and safe. I have also resorted to taking a sleeping pill now and then.
3.) Preparation between shifts is key. I make sure my grocery shopping and laundry is caught up on my days off so I don’t have to run to the store on my workdays. I have meals all ready to go, clean uniforms, and my family is all situated when I go back to work. Then all I have to focus on is working, sleeping and trying to fit in a little family time.
4.) Everyone needs a break from work, so I use PTO in order to get time off to be normal with my family. I make sure to schedule time around the holidays to be with family and friends, travel, etc so I don’t feel like I am missing out on life just because I work nights. I’ve made sure that I have short-term and long-term disability so that I don’t have to rely on PTO if a health issue arises.
5.) Sleep always happens before my shifts. For example, on my first night back, I get a long nap in. Then I sleep my 6 hours between two or more shifts. I just don’t believe that nurses can be safe without adequate sleep. For example I’ve known nurses who don’t sleep between shifts, try to watch small kids all day long and “nap” in the same room, and I’ve even known nurses who work a day shift at one hospital and that same night work a night shift at another!! Yes, sleep is challenging for night nurses—but we must have our rest! This leads me to my last coping strategy:
6.) I make sure I have the support necessary to make NOC work. I’m talking support from everyone in my life as well as the management of my hospital, my coworkers, etc. NOC is great in many ways—the pay, the quieter units, and compatibility w/ family life—but night nurses must take care of themselves outside the hospital. Their spouses and significant others need to understand that daytime is for sleep. Childcare needs to be arranged because sleeping moms cannot adequately supervise little kids. Phones need to be turned off; friends need to understand NOC nurses aren’t available during the day. Management needs to understand that night nurses need to have normal lives—meeting should be arranged to fit night schedules and management should have ways to support NOC nurses…the list goes on!
Night nursing is a lifestyle that has many rewards but also necessitates many sacrifices and adjustments. I do like nights, but I have had to learn the hard way how to make it feasible. Now off for a nap before I go to work!
For more Career Advice for Nurses pick up the latest issue of Scrubs magazine, available at a retail store near you!