Shift work is part and parcel of many jobs; the Sleep Foundation defines shift work as any schedule that is out of the work hours of 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. One of the most disliked shift work schedules is the night shift – sometimes starting at 11 p.m. or later.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics discloses that 16% of employees work such shifts, of which 4% do the night shift. As a nurse, you must have often encountered the dreaded night shift during your profession. Because healthcare is 24/7, someone has to do the night shifts.
These night shifts for nurses are common in institutions with fewer physicians to handle the workload. The unusual work hours are bound to disturb your schedule and cause undue stress.
Unsurprisingly, disturbing your circadian rhythm this way can pave the way for mood disturbances, fatigue, sleep deprivation, bad dietary habits, and even cardiovascular problems.
The good news is that it doesn’t necessarily have to have such a toll on your body. With a few additional measures and a slight adjustment to your routine, you can successfully cope with the stress of working night shifts.
The following tips will help:
1. Make necessary adjustments to other aspects of your life.
Your night shift will inevitably affect other aspects of your life, and it would be necessary to make the required adjustments. For instance, you might be too tired the next day to follow through on commitments with your family; make sure your family is on board, knows, and understands your schedule.
Similarly, if you complete a higher education degree alongside your job, go for an online program. Many degree programs and post MSN certificate programs online are available; these allow for a more flexible schedule that you can easily adjust around your shift hours.
Remember that it isn’t easy to tackle a night shift, and it will affect other aspects of your life one way or another, which is okay.
2. Group your night shifts.
If your body is on the go for night shifts, it is best to keep the routine for some time; it will be much harder to adjust to an alternating schedule. If your job allows it, cluster your night shifts instead of alternating them with day-only shifts.
Yes, it isn’t easy to juggle several night shifts in a row, but you will find it much easier to handle when your body gets the hang of it.
Research by USA.edu has shown that nurses working rotating shifts (several night shifts and then a day shift) had lower job satisfaction, more frequent fatigue, and poorer quality and quantity of sleep.
3. Prioritize sleep.
The biggest disruption that a night shift causes is, of course, to your sleep schedule. Working at night inevitably means that to complete the minimum hours of sleep; you will have to sleep during the day when the rest of the world is awake.
The major problem with daytime sleep is that light – be it from the sun or artificial sources – reduces the body’s production of melatonin. This is a hormone that the body produces at night to facilitate good quality sleep.
When you intend to sleep during the day, make sure you have blackout blinds or wear an eye mask, and steer clear of electronic devices right before sleep; make your body believe it is night. Also, remember to set a sleep schedule and stick to it.
You must set clear boundaries and let others know your sleep time.
4. Keep your loved ones in the loop.
When working night shifts, nurses will likely feel isolated and ‘left out’ from friends and family. Handling relationships with loved ones becomes much harder since your schedules don’t match.
First, ensure everyone is on the same page; explain to your kids when and why you have to sleep during the day when you can give them extra time and when you must do your work.
At the same time, try to maintain constant contact with your loved ones as much as possible. Communicate regularly through text messages, phone calls, or emails. Planning a family outing at the end of the week is also a good idea so you all have something to look forward to.
5. Don’t overdo the caffeine.
It is tempting to chug one cup of coffee after another when you have difficulty keeping your eyes open on the night shift. Indeed, caffeine is sometimes necessary to keep you alert and on the go during busy shifts but remember not to overdo it.
Ideally, refrain from coffee four to five hours before your shift ends; it might be morning for the rest of the world, but your bedtime is arriving. Caffeine before bedtime is a bad idea. It is already difficult to sleep during daylight hours without having caffeine coursing through your veins.
Also, a high caffeine intake, especially in energy drinks, elevates stress, increases blood pressure, reduces sleep quality, and increases the risk of obesity. Pack some nutrient-rich snacks for your shift instead of relying on caffeine for an energy boost.
6. Stay busy
Night shifts tend to be less packed and busy compared to day shifts. The ‘low key’ work that is more common during the night shift is bound to make you sleepy and make the shift feel much longer than it is. It would help if you found a way to keep busy and deal with the slower pace.
During the night shift, patients will be asleep, other staff members like supervisors, kitchen staff, and directors will return during the day, and there will be less overall activity. It is best to get extra work done during this time and prepare for the morning rush.
Nursing is no walk in the park, and the night shift is one of the most dreaded aspects for every nurse. However, if you know how to deal with the routine reversal, you can cope with the stress and fatigue of night shift work.
Remember to prioritize sleep, group night shifts, keep your loved ones in the loop, stay busy, and control caffeine intake. All-in-all, a good routine can help you overcome much of the stress that comes with night shift work.