How to cope when you’re off duty at odd hours


Most nurses don’t live in the 9-to-5 world and are well aware of how weird shifts can wreak havoc on one’s personal life. How do you maintain relationships with friends and family who are working when you’re not? How do you tweak your schedule when you need time in the “real” world? What about worship when you work on Sundays? Coming right up from the Spring 2010 issue of Scrubs, 15 ways to make the most of your downright wacky downtime.
Learn to love off shifts.

“I work three days a week, 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., and it can be hard,” says Kara Zogby Comp, BSN, RN, a traveling nurse currently on assignment in Panama City, Fla. “But once I got over the fact that I was working nights and weekends, I started to realize the benefits, like I get four days off when most people have only two.” Chicago-based Michele Martello, RN, has worked the night shift for 22 years—and wouldn’t have it any other way. Her favorite part? “I could take my son to school in the morning, sleep while he was there, help him with homework when he came home, then have dinner with him before going off to work.”

Get a good day’s sleep.

“I love sleeping in when everyone else is waking up and rushing off to work,” says Michelle Whitaker, RN, of Cambridge, Mass. To ensure you get the rest you need, make your bedroom a sanctuary. Keep the temperature on the cool side—60 to 65 degrees F, which is ideal for slumber, according to the Better Sleep Council. Dim the lights—completely. Consider a sleep mask, heavy drapes or window covers such as those made by Blackout EZ Window Cover ( Adopt a pre-bedtime ritual that your body will come to associate with sleep, whether it’s ambient music, chamomile tea, relaxing aromatherapy or a soothing warm bath or shower. Don’t forget to turn off the ringer on the phone, set your cell to vibrate and make sure the answering machine is on low. And see to it that family members (pets, too) have what they need from you so your dreams won’t be interrupted.

Alert thy neighbors.

Let the folks next door, down the hall and upstairs know “your 3 p.m. is my 3 a.m.” Hopefully they’ll be respectful and keep noise to a minimum, and you’ll get the peace and quiet you deserve.

Don’t hit that mattress…yet.

Sometimes you want to be on a “normal” schedule—maybe to take on a volunteer stint that falls in the middle of your sleeping hours, or you just crave a typical dinner-and-a-movie date with your partner. Next time that urge strikes when you’re coming up on a few days off, don’t head for the bed as soon as you get home from work, advisesNew Jersey—based Kathy Madden, RN, FNP-BC, AOCNP. She worked off shift for 10 years, but says, “I’d flip back to an ‘everyone else’ schedule for my days off.” How did she do it? By staying up till dark—she’d do only light chores or catch up on reading. After a full night’s sleep, she’d be sufficiently rested to live like a “regular person” the next day.

Say goodbye to lines.

Ah, the beauty of the supermarket, post office, health club, bank or mall…at 10 a.m. on a weekday! “It’s really nice not to be forced to shop on the weekends when the crowds are heavy,” says Emily Smith, RN, of Austin, Tex. “I can browse to my heart’s content without being jostled or hurried.” Another perk? If you wash clothes at a laundromat or in your apartment building, you needn’t compete with the rest of the world’s dirties. Use 10 machines at a time to do three weeks’ worth of laundry in a couple of hours if you please.

Revel in your reverse commute.

When driving home from your night shift, it’s okay to smirk a little at the traffic-snarled commuters crawling in the opposite direction. “It takes me half the time it would if I drove to work during ‘regular’ hours,” says Philadelphia night-shifter and self-professed night owl Laura Hannu-Eckrote, RN. Plus, there’s a cash incentive: “Parking is often free at night. I would have to pay to park or to take the train if I worked during the day.”

Enjoy last-minute indulgences.

Reservations at the hottest place in town may be hard to come by on a typical weekend, but when your Friday is Tuesday, you’ll not only find a great table, but you’ll have an eager-to-please, un-frazzled staff at your disposal. The same holds true for other service-oriented businesses. Whereas you’d need to book a Saturday haircut weeks in advance, you’re likely to score midweek appointments at the drop of a hat.


Nina Malkin
Nina Malkin has written for The New York Times, Real Simple, Good Housekeeping, Essence and Cosmopolitan. She’s also the author of the novel Swoon, a paranormal romance, and the memoir An Unlikely Cat Lady.

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