Knowing how to work a night shift and stay healthy is critical for nurses who have to work while the sun is down.
A nurse's job is difficult enough, but it is made much more difficult when you have to balance your daily life with long, overnight hours. Not only can this make it difficult to balance your work and personal lives, but it also presents a number of other challenges, such as battling fatigue, staying busy during slow hours, and more.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to adapt to working such strange hours. As such, it's important for managers and team leaders to help their nurses understand how they can work these difficult hours without sacrificing their mental or physical health.
With that being said, let's take a closer look at tips for how to work a night shift and stay healthy.
How to Work a Night Shift & Stay Healthy
When working overnight hours, it's important to prioritize your mental and physical wellbeing. Adapting to a new schedule can be much more difficult than you might think and can have a serious impact on your health.
So, if you're a new nurse or you manage a team of nurses, be sure to keep these tips in mind for making it through the night while staying healthy.
Get Plenty of Sleep
One of the biggest issues night workers face is fatigue and lack of sleep. Working night shifts can interrupt your normal sleep schedule, and it can be difficult to sleep well during the day. Not only that, but nurses with families may also find it difficult to find time to sleep during the day.
As such, it's recommended that nurses stick to strict sleep schedules and create environments that are conducive to a good night's sleep. Consider using blackout curtains, sleep masks, earplugs, and anything else that can help you stay asleep during the busy day.
Eat Healthy Foods
What you eat has a significant impact on your energy and stamina levels throughout the day, and as night shift nurses often battle with fatigue, it's important to eat food that provides you with plenty of energy.
So, in addition to making conscious, healthy choices, it's also recommended to eat small, more frequent meals to provide you with a steady stream of energy throughout the day. Snacks and meals should include a healthy balance of complex carbs and protein.
Nuts, fruits and vegetables, dried fruits, fruit juices, and similar items are all great for quick bursts of energy throughout the day.
Use Caffeine Moderately
Caffeine is, of course, a must for most workers, not just those who work night shifts. That being said, drinking a caffeinated beverage, such as coffee or tea, before a shift can help you maintain your energy and alertness throughout the night.
Be sure not to go overboard, though, as excessive amounts of caffeine can have negative side effects, such as jitters and anxiety.
One major factor that contributes to fatigue is that night shifts are often slower than day shifts. As most patients are asleep during the night, it can be difficult to fill in the gaps throughout the course of your shift.
In order to work a night shift and stay healthy, it's important to find productive ways to stay busy. This might include getting work done to ease the burden on the day shift nurses or spending more one-on-one time with your patients.
Stay on Top of Your Health
Working night shifts can have negative impacts on your health that you might not even notice. This can include having a higher risk of diabetes, daytime sleepiness, insomnia, high blood pressure, and more.
To avoid this and stay healthy, it's important to actively monitor your health. Pay attention to any new symptoms that you may start experiencing and visit your primary care doctor if you think anything is wrong.
Maintain Healthy Relationships With Coworkers
To work a night shift and stay healthy, it's important to maintain healthy relationships with your coworkers and managers.
First and foremost, forming close bonds with your coworkers and managers can help you maintain your mental health by making work easier and more enjoyable.
But more than that, bonding with management and opening clear lines of communication can improve your experience at work as well as your work-life balance. Having a dialogue with your manager means you can raise scheduling concerns and improve conditions for everyone on the staff.
Accommodate Your Circadian Rhythm
Everyone has an internal clock, called your circadian rhythm, that dictates your 24-hour cycle. This clock plays a role in regulating your sleep schedule, hormones, heart rate, body temperature, and more.
Most nurses disrupt their circadian rhythm as soon as they begin working night shifts, which can have damaging health effects.
To avoid these negative effects and maintain a healthy internal clock, it's important to maintain a strict 24-hour schedule, even on the weekends when you may not be working.
Nurses who work night shifts face the challenge of balancing their work lives with their personal lives. When working late hours, it's common for nurses to feel out of the loop at home as they're often asleep while their family and friends are at home.
To maintain a healthy lifestyle, be sure to create a schedule that allows you to fulfill your duties at work without sacrificing your personal relationships.
You should also be sure to stay in communication with family and friends through calls, texts, emails, and social media. This can help you maintain these important relationships while working difficult hours.
Of course, exercise is critical for maintaining your physical health and maintaining your alertness through a long night shift.
Nurses tend to start experiencing fatigue at around 4-00 AM - 5-00 AM. As such, you should try to avoid doing monotonous or tedious work during these hours as it can contribute to fatigue.
Instead, you can take a few minutes to get some quick exercise to reset your energy levels. Additionally, be sure to use breaks as an opportunity to stay active. It may be tempting to rest, but rest will often just worsen your fatigue.
Drive Safely (Or Don't Drive At All)
Last but not least, it's important for nurses to have a plan to make it home safely every night.
If you frequently experience severe fatigue towards the end of the night, you should avoid driving yourself home and opt for public transport, carpooling, or another alternative instead.
Driving while tired can significantly impair your abilities, so be sure to find a safer alternative if necessary.