If you're a nurse or other healthcare professional, the dreaded night shift means a complete disruption in your day-to-day schedule. But with the right preparation, working the night shift doesn't have to totally disrupt your life.
Here are 10 simple ways that nurses and clinicians can manage the stress, fatigue, and schedule change that often comes along with night shifts.
Schedule Your Sleep
The number one rule for being alert and healthy during a night shift 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 optimized for your rest - meaning as little light as possible, comfortable space, zero noise. Also make sure to avoid alcohol before going to bed - though it may seem relaxing to indulge in a glass of wine before going to sleep, alcohol actually disrupts your natural sleep cycles and keeps you from getting your most restful sleep.
Find Ways To Relax
If you absolutely cannot fall asleep during the daytime hours, don't give up! Engage in another restful activity - such as yoga, meditation, listening to music, or reading a book. Try to unwind as much as possible and absolutely avoid any screens, including the TV, computer, and phone screens, all of which emit blue wavelengths of light that interrupt 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 your shift starts.
Be Careful About Caffeine
Although caffeinated beverages are a great way to stay active and alert, be wise about what time and how often you ingest caffeine. Experts recommend that you have your last caffeinated drink at the halfway point of your shift and don't have any caffeine after that, as drinking too much caffeine comes with its own set of health issues.
Eat Right Before
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.
Stay Hydrated 24/7
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. Just as important as eating right and getting adequate sleep, make sure you're drinking enough water throughout your shift.
Be Constructive During Slow Periods
When patients are sleeping and regular hospital hours are over, night shifts usually have long periods of slow activity. Resist the urge to to doze off or get bored during these long stretches of time - instead, 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
A lot of information can get lost in translation when shifts change to night workers and back to day shifts. Keep lines of communication open with the daytime workers at your workplace 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.
Aptly named, Enclothed Cognition is the official Medelita blog for medical professionals interested in topics relevant to a discerning and inquisitive audience. Medelita was founded by a licensed clinician who felt strongly about the connection between focus, poise and appearance.