Working irregular hours can be mentally and physically exhausting. While it can sometimes yield higher wages, the burnout associated with night shifts is no joke.
This career is hard, even for day shift nurses. Adjusting to nocturnal hours is a whole other feat. It’s important that you build healthy habits to make the most of your schedule.
With a little bit of planning and effort, you can maximize your energy levels and productivity whiles working nights. To help you out, here are our favorite tips to help you stay healthy on the night shift.
1. Get Consistent Sleep
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Research shows that symptoms such as sleep deprivation and fatigue can result in more workplace accidents for nurses. This is part of why it’s so important to maintain a consistent sleep schedule, particularly when you’re working night shifts.
Try to get the recommended 8 hours of sleep, if possible. If getting 8 hours of rest isn’t likely, take some time to understand your circadian rhythm, and sleep schedule and how that impacts your focus and energy levels.
Click here for tips on improving your circadian rhythm. You don’t want to risk chronic sleep deprivation due to a consistent lack of sleep.
If you know you’re going to be working a night shift, you may want to prepare by getting a two-hour nap from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Purchase light-blocking curtains or a sleep mask to help you adjust.
If naps aren’t your preference, then you can also try sleeping in more on the morning prior to your shift. Additionally, try to go to sleep in a dark, peaceful environment without any distractions.
Try to find an environment where your body won’t overheat. A cool environment helps with your body temperature and sleep quality.
More than anything, it is all about developing a regular sleep schedule that works for your working hours while still receiving restful sleep. You want to optimize your quality of sleep to ensure that you’re functioning at full capacity.
2. Drink Water
To function optimally nursing night shifts, and in general, hydration is key.
Dehydration can cause several negative symptoms such as fatigue, lack of focus, and headaches. To avoid these effects, make it a habit to supply your body regularly with water.
When you give yourself the proper amount of fluids, you can function at a higher capacity.
There is a multitude of habits you can incorporate to help you stay hydrated.
For example, you might want to eat more foods that contain water, such as watermelon and other juicy fruits. Additionally, you might invest in a gallon water bottle and make it a goal to consume one bottle’s worth of water a day. This makes for an easy way to measure your fluid intake.
3. Moderate Caffeine Intake
When working late hours, it can come second nature to reach for another cup of coffee or tea. This can make for a useful pick-me-up for when you’re hitting a lull in your night shift routine.
While, in moderation, caffeine can be a helpful tool, it can also have negative effects when you consume too much.
For example, too much caffeine can cause you to crash mid-shift, or it can interrupt your sleep patterns when consumed before bed. For this reason, you just need to be mindful of how and when you ingest caffeine.
4. Keep Moving at Night
Once you’re at work, you might discover that it’s hardest to stay efficient and alert in the early morning.
It is helpful to keep your body moving. Even if you have to do a few jumping jacks to get your blood flowing, you’ll find yourself becoming a bit more energized.
Getting outside for a breath of fresh air can prove helpful, too.
If you have a task that needs to be completed after your night shift, do it immediately. Even if it is accomplished at a slower pace, it’s important to complete it as soon as possible.
Whether it’s a trip to the store or stopping by the post office, get it done before your body starts hitting relaxation mode and unwinding.
5. Exercise Regularly
There is an assortment of benefits to creating an exercise routine. For one, when you exercise, it can help relieve stress and encourage positive emotions. This means that exercising before work can help you start off your shift in a better mood. This creates momentum that can carry you through a tough day’s work.
Plus, it is great for your weight, blood pressure, mind, and overall health.
Additionally, the amount of exercise you get is related to your quality of sleep. This means that when you exercise regularly, you can sleep better, and when you sleep better, it promotes energy levels the next day.
Even if you can’t squeeze in a full workout before your shift, consider going on a walk during your break to re-energize your mind. A little exercise each day can go a long way.
5. Steer Clear of Alcohol
Unfortunately, there’s a common trend where people use alcohol as a means to fall asleep. While it can help you fall asleep quicker, it has a negative impact on sleep quality.
Alcohol consumption before bed results in a disrupted REM cycle and more fragmented sleep patterns.
Therefore, it’s better to abstain from alcohol if you want to feel rested before a late shift at work.
If you need help getting to sleep, there are natural solutions without the drawbacks of alcohol. Try having a cup of chamomile tea, or look into melatonin or magnesium supplements. You may even want to get blackout curtains to keep unwanted light out of your sleeping space.
7. Keep a Consistent Meal Schedule
Have you ever heard that working the night shift as a nurse is rough on your waistline? It may actually come as a surprise because you may figure you’re going to be moving more, right?
Just like the Freshmen 15, completely uprooting your lifestyle and daily activities can have that effect on you.
People who work the night shift may overeat to stay awake because they don’t burn as much energy. This overconsumption can lead to weight gain.
When you’re working the night shift as a nurse, it’s more crucial than ever to keep up a regular and healthy meal schedule. Walden advises having a nutritious meal prior to your shift.
Avoid vending machine snacks, energy drinks, and heavy fat-laden foods. It’s just going to make you more groggy. Instead, opt for healthy snacks like fruit, chopped veggies, and mixed nuts.
8. Take Part in a Community
There are many people who work night shifts regularly. Seek them out and ask about their routines. You’ll likely find helpful advice that comes naturally from experience.
Plus, it helps to be able to talk to someone who knows what you’re going through.
If possible, find online communities of night shift workers, or make your own.
Sometimes it can be difficult to forge social connections with others when your schedule is acclimated to night shifts. That’s what makes it convenient to seek out friends who work the same schedule as you. Having a support system of other NOC nurses can be invaluable.
9. Take Strategic Naps
When you’re on your break, consider finding a quiet place where you can nap. It might be tempting to use your break to browse social media or play games on your phone, but nothing can re-energize you like sleep.
Set an alarm for 20 to 30 minutes and then take a nap on your break.
If you aren’t used to napping, it might be difficult to sleep within a time limit. Don’t get discouraged. With persistence, your body will adjust and learn how to dip into uninterrupted sleep faster. Afterward, you will return to work with a new wave of energy and alertness.
10. Make Self-Care a Priority
The night shift is easier to deal with when you’re properly taking care of yourself. This means that you should incorporate healthy habits and routines into your everyday life.
For example, activities such as yoga and meditation can help you stay emotionally grounded, even in the midst of a stressful day.
Treat yourself to a spa day or purchase a few nice eye masks if you notice the effects of working the night shift taking a toll on your body.
Additionally, you want to make sure you’re prioritizing your nutrition. When you come home from a long day at work, you might not feel in the mood to cook a healthy meal. It can be tempting to consume easy-to-make, processed junk foods. You may want to meal prep ahead of time, however, so you can give yourself the proper nutrition to function happily throughout the day.
For more self-care tips especially for nurses, check out these 7 Easy Self-Care Tips for Nurses.
11. Limit Blue Light Exposure
These days, we are consistently exposed to blue light emitted from technology such as smartphones and tablets. Blue light has the potential to throw off our biological clock and suppress our body’s melatonin secretion. For this reason, to make the most of your sleep routine, you should avoid blue light before bed.
While the effects of blue light can negatively impact sleep, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to avoid it altogether. That being said, try to avoid blue light exposure for about two to three hours before you sleep. You might even want to use blue-light-blocking glasses when you use technology.
Working night shifts can be draining, but there are habits you can implement to make the most of your situation. Using the above strategies you can maximize your energy levels and increase your productivity on the job.
That being said, try not to overwhelm yourself by implementing every suggestion at once. You want to avoid burnout if at all possible. Change takes patience and effort, so take things one step at a time. For more information and tips for staying healthy working the night shift, check out the infographic below.
12. Set Boundaries
It’s important that you master the art of saying “no” and developing boundaries with your friends and family.
Night shift nursing means you’ll be sleeping during the day when the rest of the world is up and about. Your family might need to keep quiet while you’re sleeping, and your friends might try to call you in the middle of the day.
Describe to the best of your ability how working a night shift as a nurse has been impacting your life and why rest, recovery, and sleep are so valuable.
When you go to bed, turn off your phone. It may seem extreme or over the top, but consider posting a sign on your front door asking visitors to be quiet if you anticipate packages or frequently receive knocks on the door.
Surpassing the Challenges of Working a Night Shift
From the managers overseeing night shift nurses to the nurses themselves, there is no easy way to break into the night shift cycle after working the day shift and it can be challenging to succeed when you’re there. The night shift schedule is daunting.
With these tips above, you give yourself the best chance to perform at a high level while keeping your mental and physical health in balance.
Chances are, you went into nursing to save lives and help people. That can only be done if you’re looking out for your own well-being first.
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Our dedicated coordination team assists you every step of the way and helps match you with private clients and facilities that align with your preferences and skill sets. Plus, you get to choose your pay rates. Plus, you get to choose your pay rates for any nursing shift.
Don’t let night shift nursing ruin your health or personal life. Let us help you achieve the perfect work-life balance.
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Rhett Rivera is a content marketer at Siege Media who previously worked as a public relations intern at Social Wise Communications. He graduated from California State University, Fullerton with a Bachelors of Arts in Communications Studies. During his time in university, he wrote articles and headed the outreach committee as Vice President of Outreach for the Public Relations Student Society of America.