No matter what your specialty is or where you’re located, working a night shift as a nurse presents unique challenges. Often, the most difficult tests of these come from your own body, which wants nothing more than to lie down in your own bed when you’re working at 3 in the morning.
Making it even more difficult is trying to balance a normal life outside of work with your opposing hours. You crave sleep while your family and friends are craving the chance to spend time with you. Appointments must be made to work around your erratic work schedule, and even your eating patterns are affected.
Still, for decades, dedicated nurses around the world have made it happen and successfully. You can too by following these 13 tips from nurses who have conquered the night shift before you.
- Make the Transition Slowly – If you’ve just been told that you’ll be starting on nights, help your body get prepared so long as time allows. Stay up as late as you possibly can, and begin trying different techniques to help you fall asleep during the day so that your body won’t go into a night shift shock after your first shift.
- Schedule Sleep – Think about the typical work day, where someone gets off at five and spends the next few hours taking care of life before getting to bed. If possible, try to schedule your life the same way, albeit a bit backward. Instead of jumping into bed the second you get home, have breakfast, clean the house, run your errands. If your shift doesn’t start until 11 at night, you can realistically stay up with most of the rest of the world until 2, and still give yourself 8 hours of sleep and 1 hour to get ready to start the process all over again. The bonus to scheduling sleep this way is that for about half of it, you are in bed after the sun goes down, just the way your body is programmed to be. Plus, you enter the workplace fully rested, rather than feeling drained from a whirlwind of activity just before making your first rounds.
- Create an Environment Conducive to Sleep – Eye masks, light blocking curtains, and earplugs can all help make it easier to fall into a deep sleep even when the sun is up and blazing. Make sure to keep the temperature in your room comfortable and have a strict “do not disturb” policy in place. That also means your cell phone, computer, and TV are all turned off until you are ready to rise again.
- Decompress – If sleep eludes you during the day, consider taking up an activity like yoga to help you fall into a more relaxed state. If yoga is not your thing, a warm bath may do the trick, or get your partner to give your feet a massage. It is not enough that you nap, you have to provoke your body into falling into the deep sleep it needs to get fully rejuvenated.
- Don’t Drink Alcohol to Help You Fall Asleep Faster – It’s tempting to have glass of wine or a cold one before bed, but alcohol inhibits the REM sleep you need. This means that you will not feel rested or even functional after waking up.
- Exercise Before Your Shift – Some may think that this will tire you out faster, but if you are able to kick start your metabolism with exercise before your shift, you will feel the positive effect for hours afterward. You can also take 20 minutes and get some exercise in at your midway point in order to make it to clocking out time.
- Eat Energy-Filled Meals – Caffeinated drinks are great for short-term boosts of energy, but they will cause a crash and burn effect. Limit coffee and soda during the shift and instead rely on foods that continually provide you with energy. Whole grains and proteins will help to give you steady energy rather than the peaks and falls that come from refined carbs and sugars.
- Have a Stock Pile of Snacks. Grazing on nuts, dried fruits, and yogurts during lulls in the shift will keep your body energized and your eyes from falling shut.
- Drink a Ton of Water – Not staying hydrated makes your body feel more run down than normal, depleting you of all of your energy. Bring along a large bottle of water to sip on during the entire shift. At the very least, the frequent bathroom breaks will help to keep you up.
- Build a Positive Work Environment – Not only will this make it more fun to pass the night away, it will be crucial for patient care. With fewer senior staff members on the floor during the night shift, nurses have to learn how to rely more on their own skills – and those of their peers – when a critical situation arises. Spend free time getting to know the people working with you, and in building a foundation of camaraderie and trust.
- Stay One Step Ahead of the Class – Another constructive way to make use of slow periods on a night shift is to study the latest nursing trends or techniques. You can also use this time to broaden your career opportunities by learning a new specialty.
- Make the Most of Your Nights Off – Don’t spend your coveted time off wrapped up in bed, or you will begin to feel resentful of having no life outside of work. Make plans with your family, go and visit friends, or spend some time working at your favorite hobby. With careful planning, you can still enjoy your time off and not throw your body’s sleep rhythm too far out of whack.
- Start Fresh Each Shift – Bring out your inner zen and try picking up a yoga class or meditating at home. This will help you come into your night shift with an energized and positive mindset. By mentally resetting all events from your last shift, you will be able to remain focused on all the tasks at hand.
It is not uncommon to find nurses who have learned to love the serenity of night shifts. With the right attitude and plan in place, it can become one of your favorite shifts to work too.