In many healthcare facilities, activities tend to slow down during the night. But even as that happens, patients must be attended to round the clock. Therefore, as a nurse, there is a high chance that you will find yourself doing the night shift if you’ve not done so already. While all nurses have the same responsibilities and duties, those doing the night shift face a unique set of challenges. According to the Journal of Occupational and Environment Medicine, night shift workers have a 42% higher risk of contracting type 2 diabetes. Night shift work also disrupts various metabolite rhythms of the body, thus affecting the normal functioning of the liver, the digestive tract, kidneys, and pancreas, according to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Most of the issues facing night shift nurses occur due to sleep deprivation. Here are some tips that will help you to survive the night shift and minimize the health effects that come with working at night.
Get Adequate Sleep
Working as a night shift nurse will obviously interrupt your natural sleep routine. Therefore, you must ensure that you get adequate sleep before you start your night shift. You need to create a conducive sleeping environment in your home. For instance, you can use blackout curtains, which will cut out the lighting in your home during your sleeping hours. You should also disconnect anything that might disrupt your sleep such as audio systems, phones, or doorbells. Once you’ve created that environment, you should then try to sleep uninterrupted for 7 to 9 hours. Avoid multiple sleep sessions, since they can disrupt your body’s natural sleep pattern. It’s highly advisable to stick to a pre-set sleep schedule. That way, your body will eventually adjust, and you will find yourself sleeping better during the day and remain awake at night.
During the night, most patients will be asleep. However, that doesn’t mean that you should just sit down or idle around. Instead, you should do everything possible to keep your mind and body active and alert. If you’ve already finished the tasks you had been assigned, you can just walk around the wards to check on the patients. You can even conduct an inventory of medical supplies or just create some time to talk to patients who might be finding it hard to sleep. Constant movement will help to increase mindfulness and alertness. Apart from moving around, you can also do some exercises.
During the night, you are more vulnerable to drowsiness and fatigue, as compared to working during the night. After all, our bodies are designed to be awake during the day and asleep at night. Physical activities such as stretching your limbs or climbing stairs will keep your blood flowing, helping to minimize fatigue while keeping you alert during your night shift. If keeping yourself busy or exercising is not helping to alleviate fatigue, then you can grab a hot mug of coffee. However, do it moderately, since consuming too much coffee can lead to various health issues. Try to strike a balance that helps you to remain on the job, without compromising your sleep quality when you are out of work.
Eat Healthy Snacks
The food you eat before your night shift commences will have a vital effect on your stamina, energy, productivity as well as overall performance levels. Therefore, you need to choose your meals and snacks carefully. If possible, go for meals that will supply your body with enough energy, without causing drowsiness later in the shift. Also, instead of eating one large portion of food, you should opt for smaller quantities every few hours. Your meals should have vegetables, fruits, raw salads, and nuts. Avoid junk food. Instead, go for well-balanced meals that have adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates and proteins. You also need to remain well hydrated throughout your night shift. Some studies have shown that dehydration can lead to reduced mental and physical performance. Dehydration can also lead to muscle fatigue and dizziness. Therefore, if you want to remain alert during your night shift, then you should make sure you drink enough water.
Monitor Your Health
As noted earlier, working the night shift can lead to various health issues such as type 2 diabetes, poor mental health, as well as sleep deprivation. But despite the health risks, working night shift is part of your job as a nurse. Therefore, you need to be fully conscious of your health. You don’t have to be feeling unwell for you to go for medical checkups. Instead, they should be a regular part of your life. For example, you can be going for a full body checkup every 2 to 3 months. During these checkups, any illness or abnormal body function will be diagnosed early enough, thus giving you enough time to deal with it. So, if you are a night shift worker, regular medical checkups are necessary. In case you are experiencing any health issues like high blood pressure, trouble sleeping, drowsiness, depression or you are finding it extremely difficult to do your work, you should see a doctor immediately. You can also discuss your problems with your supervisor. You should always remember that you can only provide quality services to your patients if you are in good health. Therefore, don’t neglect your health, trying to impress your superiors.
Establish a Healthy Life-Work Balance
Night shift nurses might sometimes find themselves isolated or disconnected from their family and friends, due to the conflicting schedules. However, that doesn’t mean that you should forgo having a family all together in favor of building your career. Once you arrive home after your night shift, you should spend a few minutes having breakfast with your family, instead of going straight to bed. You can also facilitate regular communication with your loved ones, through phone calls, emails, and texts. You also need to explain to your children why you sleep during the day and you are not available to tuck them in at night. With clear communication lines, it should not be hard to maintain a healthy work and life balance.
Wear Proper Nursing Footwear
As much as you will be working the night shift, you will still spend a considerable amount of time on your feet. It’s, therefore, important to wear the right type of nursing shoes. A proper pair of nursing shoes will keep your feet comfortable throughout your shift, thus helping you to perform your duties effectively. There are different types of nursing shoes on the market. Some nurses opt for nursing clogs while others prefer nursing sneakers. Regardless of the type you choose, make sure the shoes are comfortable enough, they provide ample support and they have adequate traction.
When you are working the night shift, you might not get adequate light exposure as you would, if you were working during the day. And this might leave you feeling low, and unproductive. To counter such issues, you can use a lightbox to increase light exposure around you or even stay in rooms that are well-lit. Sniffing rosemary oil can also help you to remain relaxed, fresh and alert.
Get Home Safely
According to the National Highway and Safety Authority, up to 72,000 crashes and 44,000 injuries occurred in 2013, due to drowsy driving. Nurses and other shift workers are more likely to drive when fatigued or drowsy. In order to avoid drowsiness, some drivers roll down the car windows or play music at high volume in their cars. Unfortunately, these approaches rarely work. Instead, you should opt for carpooling. If possible, you can even hire a cab or using public transport when your night shift is over, instead of driving yourself home. But if you don’t have any other option, then you need to learn defensive driving skills or even use a car that is adequately equipped with driver assistance features.
Not every nurse has what it takes to thrive while doing the night shift. However, if you are willing to adapt your lifestyle to the requirements of working the night shift, the rewards can be a boost to both your personal life and your career. By taking advantage of the tips and tricks presented here, you will find it easier to achieve peak performance as a night shift nurse, reach your career goals and maintain strong social and professional connections with your family, colleagues, friends, and the community.