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Tried and True Ways to Survive the Night Shift

  • Category: Careers
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  • Written By: Baton Rouge General
Tried and True Ways to Survive the Night Shift

Being a night shift nurse can have its benefits. It can offer differential pay, can provide a slower pace of work, and can provide a close-knit group of co-workers but it can also come with some challenges. Working the night shift may require a change in lifestyle and an active effort to maintain a healthy sleep schedule and diet. So how can you make sure you are at your best every day? Here are some tips for helping for you maximize your personal and professional life.

Get an Adequate Amount of Sleep

Stick to a regular sleep schedule, even on your days off. It can negatively affect your sleep quality when you swap back and forth. Need help getting to sleep during the day? Try these get-to-sleep-quick tricks:

  • Try not to consume caffeine within four hours of going to sleep, so you don't waste precious hours staring at the ceiling instead of snoozing.
  • Make sure your room is dark and quiet by using light-blocking shades, turning off your phone, and making the room as sound-proof as possible.
  • Use a sleep mask and earplugs to help block out light and sound.
  • Relax when you get home from work before you attempt to go to sleep. Go to bed when your body starts telling you it’s time for rest.

Watch your diet

Planning your meals and snacks in advance can help you to stay alert at work, help prevent overeating and obesity and help you relax when you get home. Eat frequent light meals or healthy snacks to avoid the drowsiness comes with heavy meals.

  • Choose foods that are easy for your body to digest: Fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs and other sources of protein, whole grains and salads are just a few options that can help give you the energy you need to work your overnight shift and still maintain a healthy diet.
  • Avoid foods that are difficult to digest: Fried, spicy, acidic, and processed foods can cause indigestion, bloating and are harder for your body to break down leaving you tired, uncomfortable, and bloated.
  • Try to stick to a similar eating pattern to the one that you would follow during the daytime.
  • Steer clear of sugary foods and drinks. Processed breakfast cereals and bars, candy, cookies, and foods that contain artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols may provide a short-term energy boost, but they are quickly followed by an energy dip.
  • Snack on fruits and vegetables. Sugars from these are converted slowly into energy, and are an important source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
  • Keep hydrated while you are working to promote physical and mental performance, but do not overload the bladder with fluid before bed.

Use caffeine products wisely

  • Small regular doses of caffeine can enhance wakefulness and help you to perform better. Caffeine is a stimulant however and improper use or too much can cause gastrointestinal upsets and muscle shakes.
  • Workers that consume smaller, more frequent amounts of caffeine throughout the day report enhanced wakefulness, perform better on cognitive tests, and have fewer accidental naps than those who had had no caffeine.
  • Caffeine use should be stopped around 6 hours prior to bedtime to ensure that the stimulant does not affect your sleep.
  • Every person is different, so finding the right combination of techniques that suits you best may take time. Applying some of the above strategies may help you on your way to coping better with working at night and ensuring that you get the right amount of sleep to function properly.

Create a Healthy Balance on the Home Front

Nurses who work the night shift may experience bouts of feeling ‘out of the loop’ or isolated from family and friends. Night shift employees often find themselves working harder to maintain relationships with loved ones who have conflicting schedules. Additional night shift survival tips for nurses who are married and/or have children include:

  • Facilitate communication with loved ones through texts, emails, and phone calls.
  • Post notes and responses on a bulletin board at home to keep families connected when face-to-face interaction is not possible.
  • Couples who schedule a ‘date night’ at the end of a long work week have something to look forward to.
  • Remember that sleep, no matter your schedule, should be a priority in creating a healthy work-life balance

Exercise or Get Active to Stay Alert

Nurses working the night shift tend to experience the most fatigue and drowsiness around 4 a.m. Staying active during your breaks is an effective way to reboot energy levels and may include taking a walk to the cafeteria, climbing a set of stairs or dancing to a song on the radio in the break room.

While not everyone is a night-owl, you can help train your body and your mind to stay healthy and minimize the recovery from your time on duty. Consult “seasoned” night-shift nurses and friends to help you determine the best ways to care for yourself so you can care more effectively for others.

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