Working the dreaded night shift means a complete shift in your day-to-day schedule, but it doesn't have to totally disrupt your life. Here are 10 simple ways that you can manage the stress, fatigue, and schedule change that often comes along with night shifts.
The number one rule for being alert and healthy is making sure you are getting enough sleep. Structure your schedule the day before your night shift to make sure you are getting at least a few REM cycles, and make sure your sleeping environment is conducive to rest (as little light as possible, comfortable space, zero noise). Avoid alcohol before going to bed - it may seem relaxing to indulge in a glass of wine before going to sleep, but it actually disrupts your natural sleep cycles and prevents you from a restful sleep.
Find Ways To Relax
If you absolutely cannot fall asleep during the day, engage in another restful activity - such as yoga, meditation, listening to music, or reading a book. Try to relax as much as possible and absolutely avoid any screens (TV, computer, and phone screens emit blue wavelengths of light, which interrupts the brain's sleeping patterns).
Exercise Before Your Shift Starts
As we've mentioned before, exercising before work provides a number of physical and mental benefits. In the case of night shifts, exercising before your shift is a great way to boost alertness and get your blood pumping. Cardio or interval training is the best way to stock up on endorphins before the start of your shift.
Be Careful With Caffeine
Although caffeinated beverages are a great way to stay active and alert, be wise about how and when you ingest caffeine. Experts recommend that you have your last caffeinated drink at the halfway point of your shift, and stop after that, as drinking too much caffeine comes with its own set of health issues.
The meal you eat right before your night shift should provide you with plenty of energy - whole grains and lean protein are recommended to maximize how long you stay full. Also be sure to bring your own healthy snacks to your shift, and avoid foods heavy in salt and sugar that will just make you crash later. Eating right is a major factor in surviving your night shifts.
Just as important as eating right and getting adequate sleep, make sure you're drinking enough water throughout your shift. Most adults rarely get enough water throughout the day - to survive a night shift you'll want to be on top of your hydration game.
Be Constructive During Slow Periods
Night shifts can have long periods of slow activity, during which patients are sleeping and regular hospital hours are over. It's easy to doze off or become bored during these long stretches of time, so use this extra free time productively. Put your effort toward busy work, such as filing or completing paperwork, or use your time to study about something you've always wanted to learn.
Communicate With Co-Workers
When shifts change to night workers and back to day shifts information can get lost in translation. Keep lines of communication open with the daytime workers so that you are all on the same page, and make social connections with your other night shift colleagues to help you enjoy your job more.
Keep A Work-Life Balance
Regular night shifts can certainly put a strain on social relationships, since you are usually waking up around the time that your friends and family are going to bed. Even though it's challenging, try to make time during the weekends or days off to reconnect with your social network - this is incredibly important for your mental health and overall happiness and general well-being.