Surviving the Night Shift
The graveyard shift, though preferred by many nurses, is also despised by many. It can be difficult to adjust and maintain a normal work function, finding an efficient sleep schedule and balancing a social life with work. The tips below will help you stay awake, alert and efficient while on shift. They will also assist you in getting a good sleep during the day and retaining a balance between your personal life and your night shift career.
On Shift Tips: How to stay awake, and alert during the night shiftTake naps: Be mindful of your naps, oversleeping or reaching the REM cycle during a nap can make you drowsier than you were before. Try taking a 30-minute nap before your shift begins, to help recharge and refresh yourself for the night. If possible, take a 10-20 minute nap on your breaks–these short intervals of sleep will help you maintain a higher level of energy.
Eat small portions throughout your shift: During the night shift you must be aware of what you eat, when you eat and how much you eat. This will have a tremendous impact on your ability to stay attentive and alert throughout your shift. First, you should never eat large or heavy meals! We have all experienced the “itis,” also referred to as food comas. Stick with eating smaller portions throughout your shift and by doing so you will sustain a steady sugar level which will keep you energized all through the night. Second, avoid eating foods that contain high amounts of processed sugar, like vending machine candy, or the cake and cookies left over from the day shifts potluck in the break room. These foods will only boost your energy for a short period of time, before you crash, causing you to become tired and irritable. Eat foods that are light and healthy, such as, fruits and veggies, soups and salads, or yogurt and granola or nuts. These foods will give you the best and most effective energy you need during the night shift.
Keep busy and continue moving during your shift: Staying busy and active during your shift will help facilitate an alert and active brain function. Sitting around unoccupied will only cause your body and mind to feel lethargic and jaded. Try to keep moving. When you have a slow night, avoid sitting down, see if any of your fellow nurses need help, take laps around the unit or take a minute to do a little stretching–anything that will keep your body in motion.
Expose yourself to light: While working the night shift, it can be extremely difficult to have exposure to the sunlight. A lack of sun can cause a depressed like state, much like seasonal depression during a winter. During your shift, attempt to have some exposure to sunlight; also try to stay in well-lit areas on your unit. Light transmits signals to your brain which keep you awake and alert. This is why during the daytime we are instinctively more awake than we are when the sun goes down. To get more exposure to sun, try leaving for work a little early and catch some sun on during your commute, or try a sun lamp and sit in front of it for a few minutes before you leave. However, when the lights are dimmed on your unit, make an effort to stay in the well-lit areas.
Talk with co-workers: Conversation is very important, it will help to you stay awake and alert throughout your shift. Chatting with coworkers can also be a great support and bonding mechanism, which is good to have assisting you with your survival as a night shift nurse. You may find out that some of the other nurses are dealing with the same issues you face adjusting to nights, or perhaps obtain suggestions and tips on how the more well-adjusted nurses endure the graveyard shift.
Do something intellectual: Since nurses thirst for knowledge, read a journal or do something that stimulates the mind intellectually, like a case review or discussion of challenges with co-workers. That will help to stimulate your mind as well as provide for some learning in your role.
Be mindful of your caffeine intake: Coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, whichever is your poison, are all worshiped by nurses. However, during the night shift you must be careful when it comes to your consumption of caffeine. Even though it can help keep you awake and boosts your energy during your shift, it can also prevent you from falling asleep and sleeping well. Drink your caffeine earlier in your shift and try to avoid it towards the end. Some say you should stop drinking caffeine at least 4 hours before you go to bed in order to insure you sleep well. You must also remember to stay hydrated with water which keeps the mind alert.
After Shift Tips: How to develop and maintain beneficial methods of sleep
Take time to decompress: Take time to relax and unwind before you go to bed. Just like a nurse who works during the day, it is important to wind down and give yourself some time to breath, instead of going straight to bed. Read a book, spend time with family, do some yoga, or watch a little TV, anything that helps you settle down and relive stress. When it comes to watching TV though, be careful. Avoid watching it right before or while you are going to sleep. TV stimulates the mind and this could result in having difficulties falling asleep.
Have a suitable sleep environment: Working nights means sleeping during the day and sleeping while the sun is shining, which can be extremely difficult. You must create an artificial nighttime environment that is dark and quite. Blackout the windows, wear a sleep mask, use a noise machine or ear-plugs– anything that will help trick your body into thinking it is time for bed. Also, don't forget to turn off your cell phones. Remember the outside world is still in operation while you are not, and in order to avoid being disrupted by friends, family, telemarketers, whoever, your phones need to be disconnected while you sleep.
Maintain a steady sleep schedule: Sleep must be a priority, and it is essential for you to have discipline and control of when you go to bed and when you wake up. By maintaining a regular sleep/wake cycle your body will begin to adapt to the unusual schedule you have, eventually making it easier for you to sleep throughout the day and stay awake during the night. On your days off, remember to try not to throw off your sleep schedule too much. This will only make adjusting back more difficult when it's time to return to work.
Try to refrain from taking sleeping aids: It's hard to force your body to rest when it's meant to be active. Try to stay away from using alcohol or sleeping pills to help you fall asleep, these both have a tendency to provide a less restful sleep and a hung over feeling the next day. If you need more assistance with falling asleep, try taking melatonin and/or valerian root. Although these are more natural and effective, some may experience feeling groggy or sluggish the morning after taking them. Just remember to make sure that these are taken in a timely manner, at least 1-2 hours before you go to bed. As with any medication or supplement, do your research and make sure it is good for you.
Exercise regularly: Exercise is known to help provide energy as well as promote a more relaxing and restful sleep. It's also a great way to boost and maintain a positive and happy mindset. Feeling good and sleeping well is extremely important for any nurse, but for someone working nights it can be challenging to achieve.
Stay in touch with the outside world: When working nights it's easy to begin to feel isolated and disconnected from the world. This adjustment really limits the time you have to spend with family and friends, as well as the time you have to enjoy doing the activities you love. It's extremely important to find time within your schedule to dedicate towards being with your family and friends. If your schedule is too busy and doesn't allow you the freedom to spend much time with those important to you, find a moment in your day to simply give them call and see how they're doing and what's been going on. The night shift can be difficult on so many different levels but once you find what works to help you adjust and maintain a balance, those difficult factors will soon become a second nature.
Hopefully these tips will help guide you in discovering the mechanisms that are most efficient and affective for you! Good luck and never forget, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do!” – Steve Jobs