Now that I’ve been on nights for two years, I’ve learned a little bit about making it work while having a family, a healthy marriage and maintaining my relationships outside the job. Its been a struggle, but I finally feel like a night shift pro — all because of the following tips:
10. When you start off on the graveyard shift, make sure you tell all the important people in your life that you work nights (your family, friends, the school your kids go to, your significant other’s place of employment, etc.). This will cut down profoundly on unexpected visitors, telephone calls and other daytime expectations from people and will help when people need to get a hold of you in a hurry — they’ll know how to contact you.
Alas, you will still have many people who “don’t get it” so keep reminding people that their 3PM is your 3AM. You need to have a backup plan in place for these people so they can reach you in an emergency!
9. Get creative and get some sleep. My current combination for daytime sleep consists of blackout curtains, white noise, earplugs and sometimes even a sleeping pill. You MUST be able to sleep during the day to make NOC work. Experiment and find something that works.
8. Find out what kind of shift schedule works for you. Currently I don’t like to work “three-in-a-row”, and find working smaller spurts is keeping me sane. But this changes for me periodically. Thankfully I self schedule so I’m able to do what works for me and my family. Fight for a schedule that works for you and you’ll find NOC can actually be pleasant.
7. Realize that in the beginning, your body may revolt. Yes, starting NOC usually means an adjustment period. You may get sick, you may feel exhausted—your body needs to get used to living like this so give it some time before you decide to start searching frantically for a day shift. Three months is the amount of time most people need to get used to NOC.
6. Watch the caffeine. Coffee and other caffeinated products can be a night-shift nurses best friend and crutch, but it can also truly screw up daytime sleeping. I don’t drink any caffeine after 0100. But I love my coffee and Red Bull on my way into work!
5. Be prepared with (healthy!) food and beverages. In most hospitals the cafeteria closes in the evening and there are few options besides vending machines and expensive, unhealthy take-out food to eat. I keep an insulated lunch box stocked full of healthy food (lots of protein) and H2O. Plus, I try to bring portable snacks that I can eat on the run when I don’t sit down all night!
4. Find ways to incorporate daytime activities into a night schedule. I find myself doing all kinds of things late at night on the night before I go into work. I stay up late and catch up on grocery shopping at an all-night place, work out at my gym which is open at 11pm, make plans w/ friends at places where we can catch a late evening movie or dessert, etc. It is amazing how much you can do on NOC hours these days!
3. Be safe. If you are too tired after a long shift to drive, know your options. Many hospitals provided quiet places for nurses to sleep between shifts—please don’t drive when you feel you may fall asleep at the wheel! Conversely, if you are unable to sleep between shifts and are exhausted, you need to know when NOT to work. Never endanger your patients by working on no sleep. Take care of that license — and more importantly, your life.
2. Don’t be afraid of using meds to help you sleep. If moderate use of OTC meds doesn’t work for you, please see your doctor and perhaps get a prescription for a sleeping aid. I believe sleep is serious enough that medication is warranted in some cases.
1. Know when you have to switch to days. Seriously, many nurses need a break from NOC at some point in their career — because it is very taxing at times physically, emotionally and socially. It really has a huge impact on life. So, know what you can and cannot do. Nights isn’t for everyone!