5 Tips for Surviving the Night Shift

When you sign up for supplemental staffing, you’ll probably notice that many better-paying positions come with one important catch –the dreaded night shift. And while night shift is the preferred by some nurses, for most, it presents a set of challenges. What’s more, a little-understood disorder called shift work sleep disorder (SWSD) can lead to a wide variety of health problems that surpass on-the-job sleepiness. The good news is that all can be avoided if you will take specific measures and work with your body’s rhythms. Here are our top five tips to stay healthy and energized even when work keeps you up at night.

1. Help Your Body Adjust

Preparing for your first shift is one of the most significant challenges you will face. Research shows that more often than not nurses do not sleep at all the day preceding their first night shift. This means that by the time you do turn in, you’ll have been awake for over 24 hours. To help your body adjust it is essential to make sure that you adequately prepare for your first night.

“The first night is the worst night!”

The Sleep Disorders Clinic at UCLA recommends that night shift workers try to keep the same sleep schedule even on days off. By maintaining regularity and limiting consecutive night shifts to less than five, your body can better adjust to new sleep patterns.

2. Use Light to Signal Your Brain

Because sleep and wake cycles are hardwired to respond to the level of ambient light, you want to absorb plenty of full-spectrum light. This means while at work, avoid dimly lit areas when possible. If the hospital or facility doesn’t have adequate full spectrum lighting, you can purchase a small light box that will simulate sunlight. These thin-line light panels are often used to treat seasonal affective disorder and are widely available. Also, use light signals to begin winding down. For example, wearing sunglasses during your commute home, the brain will receive the message to start producing natural sleep hormones.

3. Protect Your Sleep

Since getting adequate sleep is crucial to success on the night shift, you have to do everything you can to protect your rest. Here are a few practical tips:

  • Use room darkening blinds to block out the daytime sun from your bedroom.
  • Don’t delay sleep for more than an hour after you are home.
  • Follow your usual bedtime rituals.
  • Wear earplugs.
  • Don’t use technology including cell phones, tablets, or televisions in bed.
  • Get your family on board with helping you create a quiet sleep environment.

4. Plan Ahead for a Healthy Diet

The bane of night shift is junk food. Unlike your day shift counterparts, you cannot rely on the hospital cafeteria to provide for your nutritional needs. Too often night shift nurses opt for vending machines fare when it is time for their meal break. You can avoid this by starting off your “day” with a balanced meal of veggies, healthy fats, and protein. Bring plenty of healthy snacks from home to keep your energy up and when cravings arise. The Sleep Foundation recommends that shift workers sit down to eat, rather than grabbing a bite on the run or while sitting at your computer.

5. Get Active During Breaks

If you can maintain moderate exercise throughout your shift, you’ll not only get your blood pumping and ward off sleepiness, but also you will be burning calories which will contribute to your ability to fall asleep when you get home. Options for at-work exercise are limited. However, you can always take a brisk walk around the hospital, climb a few flights of stairs, or perhaps even find a quiet area for stretching or yoga.

Adjusting to your new night shift schedule doesn’t have to be that difficult. If you can integrate these tips into your routine, your health, ability sustain your work schedule, and your patients’ and family’s well-being will all benefit. Please let us know if these tips have been helpful and be sure to share with us, your own night shift survival tips!

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