How To: Survive the Night Shift

Written by Helen Le

Nurses may choose to opt for night shifts for many reasons, for instance, they may be wanting more time during the day, are attracted by the penalty pay rates or desire a calmer environment and a more reduced workload. Despite these perks, it is a no-brainer that night shifts can be extremely challenging for nurses. Due to the body’s internal clock unaccustomed to working the whole night, fatigue during a shift and the inability to sleep in the early morning is common and places a nurse’s emotional and physical well-being at risk. However, surviving the night shift through a healthy approach is definitely possible! Here are a few tips we’ve assembled to help make your night shifts more bearable.

Sleep Well

When your night is taken up by work, sleeping is crucial to keeping yourself awake. If night shifts are common for you, try and keep the same sleep schedule every week including the weekends, so your internal body clock becomes more accustomed to your waking up and sleeping times, decreasing fatigue when you get up and allowing you to sleep easier when its time to rest.

Understandably, sleeping while the sun is up isn’t ideal, as your body naturally recognises its time to wake up. A tip is to “trick” your brain into thinking its night time. Simulate the darkness of the night by hanging black curtains and using a sleep mask. You can also mimic the quietness of the night by using ear-plugs and turning off disruptive devices such as your phone. This will indicate to your brain that it is night, producing sleep hormones.

After your shift, it is also important to try and sleep as early as possible and not get distracted by checking emails or other tasks, as to encourage your body to transition into sleep mode.

Eat & Drink Well

What you put in your body is important, and its instrumental in helping you survive the night shift. Before your shift, don’t skip dinner and eat a balanced meal to ensure you start off on the right step. Also be sure to eat healthy snacks that won’t give you a crash later during the shift. Snacks such as vegetables, nuts, fruits or anything with high protein and complex carbohydrates, like rice and pasta will be perfect.

Being hydrated is key to combatting against fatigue and headaches so make sure to drink water and juice throughout your shift. Drinking coffee will also help, but drink it wisely. Be careful when eating or drinking closer to the end of your shift to account for sleeping!

Keep busy

During a night shift, it’s a lot calmer which can make you feel like time is going much slower, which may cause fatigue. Fight this by engaging with patients either by talking to them to build a relationship or participating in activities such as board or card games. Catching up with other nurses when patients are asleep is also important, furthering relationships and developing a bond with co-workers will help make night shifts easier for everyone involved. In addition, if there are any tasks that could be completed to help morning shift nurses such as re-stocking treatment rooms or sorting patient paperwork, it is also best to address them so as to stay active and keep preoccupied (your colleagues will be most grateful also).

Getting home safe

A huge number of car accidents are caused by fatigue, hence simply driving home after a night shift can pose a huge risk. Suggestions could be to catch public transport whenever possible, or getting someone to drive or pick you up after work.

Maintain relationships

Balancing night shifts along with relationships can be really tough due to conflicting schedules. Try and maintain relationships through messaging or calling, or scheduling events both parties will anticipate. Keeping and strengthening these relationships will increase your emotional wellbeing as well.

Through these tips, night shifts will get a lot easier! A combination of maintaining as well as monitoring your emotional and physical wellbeing is extremely important in getting through nightshifts. We here at Healthcare HQ wish you the best of luck!

Question: Do you have any tips on surviving the night shift?