If you’re a medical professional, chances are that you’ve had night shift work hours at some point. If you’re new to this schedule or an early riser, this will imply a literal shift in your body clock, which can be challenging at first. But, there are a number of ways to stay healthy, feel fresh, and remain alert on the job, even if you’re working odd hours.
We know you want to provide the best patient care possible, and your patients count on you to do it. Tired healthcare professionals are prone to make errors, which can negatively affect patient outcomes. So, as much as prepping right for the night shift is about keeping you healthy, it’s also about doing right by your patients.
Successful night shift work is about taking care of your body and establishing new habits. We’ve got seven tips that’ll help you absolutely crush your night shift. Let’s get you prepared for that first day (we mean night) on the job.
Seven tips for crushing your night shift schedule
Get enough sleep
Yes, healthcare professionals who work night shift hours can still sleep. You just have to shift your sleep schedule. This can be a challenge at first, so work in phases. Start by going to bed a little later each night until you get closer to your goal sleeping hours, which might be something like from 7 AM to 3 PM. Ensure that you get 7-9 hours of sleep daily (you don’t want puffy eyes or dark circles).
Daytime sleeping can also be challenging. You may come home from your shift feeling energized (especially if you couldn’t resist that last coffee), and the sunlight doesn’t help either. Invest in black-out curtains or a good eye mask, put in your earplugs, turn your phone off so that the blue light isn’t keeping you up, and try to get to sleep at the same hour every day. In time, you’ll trick your body into digging into this new sleep pattern.
Drink lots of water
Water is brain fuel and necessary for the correct functioning of our bodies. Plus, it’s a much healthier alternative to those sugary sodas and juices that you are tempted to buy from the hospital’s vending machine. Drinking lots of water will help keep you sharp, hydrated, and even radiant, as proper H20 consumption gives your skin a healthy glow. Drink at least 6-8 glasses of water every day to keep your body temperature in control and infections/diseases at bay.
Exercising regularly not only keeps us fit but also energizes us. It even uplifts our mood. So, try to establish an exercise routine that supports your physical and mental health. Especially if you’re a night shift worker, you should exercise after you wake up instead of before going to bed. Yes, it may be tempting to take a morning walk or run or hit the gym early when there is almost no one there and the weather is pleasant, but exercising before you go to bed can prevent you from falling asleep. Besides, after working eight hours straight (or even more), your body is already exhausted. Try doing light yoga or some stretching when you get home to ease sore muscles and wind down. Save your cardio or lifting for the afternoon.
Remember: you are what you eat
Eating right supports your overall mental and physical health and boosts your energy at the moment. Eat a nutritious meal that’s rich in healthy fats, protein, and fiber before you head into the hospital. Include mushrooms in your diet as they’re rich in vitamin D, which you might miss due to your schedule. Since your entire work shift has taken a 180-degree turn, your metabolism might take a hit. Pack energizing snacks like nuts, dried fruits, and grains (such as sunflower seeds or flaxseeds) so that you don’t find yourself craving a bag of chips or reaching for the brownies your coworker brought into the break room. (OK, have the brownie!).
Another pro tip is to maintain a regular eating schedule. What was once your day is now your night, so shift your “breakfast,” “lunch,” and “dinner” accordingly, even if this means eating that last meal at the end of your shift, a couple of hours before you sleep.
Wear the right scrubs
We’re all about dressing for success. Choose comfortable scrubs that make mobility smooth and make you feel good. A little boost in self-confidence can help during your transformation to becoming a night owl. If you work in an emergency environment and find yourself running around all night, get scrubs with sweat-wicking action. If you spend a lot of time seated working on your charts and get chilly from the hospital AC, bring a scrub jacket. Don’t forget to finish your look with comfortable, supportive shoes.
Meal planning is a great tactic for any medical professional, even those who work a day shift. But, for night shift workers, it’s essential. Prep your meals once you wake up in the afternoon. You may not be able to order takeout at 6 AM when you get home, but you’re likely to be hungry. Making a meal plan also helps ensure you get all the nutrients you need, which can be a form of self-care. Create a plan rich in proteins, fibers, healthy fats, and flavors you love. Healthy food is great, but healthy food that you enjoy eating is even better. Your breaks will be much more relaxing and pleasurable.
Watch the caffeine
Caffeine can be a blessing and a curse. A cappuccino before you head into the hospital can give you that boost of energy you need, and another cup during your shift can help keep you going. But, if you overdo it, you might not be able to sleep. Some studies show that caffeine has little effect on whether or not you can sleep, but if coffee makes you feel jumpy, your body may say otherwise. You’re at risk of falling prey to multiple problems like high blood pressure, obesity, and even increased stress levels. If caffeinated drinks aggravate your stomach, this alone could be enough to keep you up. The key is to consume caffeine strategically.
Need comfortable scrubs or more advice on how to survive your night shift? We’ve got you covered. Check out our tips on how to create a sleep schedule and stay awake, and treat yourself to some cozy loungewear or hardworking scrubs while you’re at it.