The field of medicine never sleeps. It’s a 24-hour job, which means there’ll always be a need for night shift nurses.
You’ve probably heard the age-old expression, “Don’t underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep.” Sure, it doesn’t apply to night shift workers, technically speaking. But that’s not to say the only way to get good sleep is at night.
The recipe for getting good sleep may not be foolproof, but it’s essentially a combination of learning how to eat and exercise properly and, above all else, creating a schedule that works for you. Whether it’s first, second or third shift, both day and night shift workers can practice the same habits for optimal sleeping. Read on to learn how.
Five tips for improving sleep for night shift workers
Working the night shift isn’t all bad. In fact, it can be a good thing. The work tends to be less eventful as patients are often asleep, and you can spend more time with family and loved ones during the day. The downfall is that you operate on different hours and will have to shift your sleep schedule.
Here are some tips on how to sleep for night shift nursing:
- Trick your body: Be it natural or artificial, light makes our bodies want to stay awake, so wear dark sunglasses on your commute home. Then, when heading to bed, put on an eye mask or use blackout curtains to convince your body that it’s nighttime. If your neighborhood happens to be noisy, wear earplugs.
- Be consistent: Even though most of the world is on another schedule, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep one of your own. Plan your meals for the same time every day, and try not to eat three or four hours before going to sleep, much like you wouldn’t if you were on a day-shift schedule. Also, keep your sleeping hours (and the total number of hours you sleep) consistent. It’s all about getting into a rhythm.
- Take a short nap: If you have trouble feeling energized for your shift, consider taking a nap before you head to work. The trick is to keep the nap short—around 30 minutes or less—so your body doesn’t enter a deep sleep cycle. Some recommend “coffee naps,” in which you drink your pre-work espresso before dozing off for 20 mins. Not only will you wake up refreshed, but you’ll also get an extra boost of caffeine-induced energy.
- Watch what you eat and drink: We know we just sang the praises of the “coffee nap,” but we don’t recommend drinking caffeine all the time. If you have caffeine near the end of your shift, you may have trouble falling asleep. Alcohol can also negatively impact your sleep. So, if you want to wind down (or wine down) at the end of the shift, do so in moderation. Finally, avoid big meals before bedtime as they can cause indigestion or nightly trips to the bathroom.
- Disconnect: Before going to bed, try to unplug from the day. Turn your phone off or leave it in another room, and wind down to relaxing music. If you still have some energy, try stretching, deep breathing exercises or meditating instead of going for a run. The idea is to calm your mind and body, not rev them up.
Why is it important that night shift workers get good sleep?
Adjusting to a night shift schedule can be difficult, especially during your first night shifts. The same goes if you don’t have a plan. That’s why we recommend making a schedule for meals, exercise and sleep. When you don’t sleep well, you put yourself and others at risk. Getting good sleep, even if it’s at odd hours, helps you stay on your toes and do your best work. In other words, restfulness is a form of risk management.
That said, don’t forget about the psychological effects of working the night shift. Some healthcare professionals who work at night feel lonely and left out of their social lives. The work can be slower, too. Getting good sleep can keep your mood up, while a lack of Z’s can make some of the challenges that come with the night shift feel even worse. And a constant cycle of sleep deprivation, burnout and even depression can lead to more severe physical and mental health problems like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
How do I work the night shift and stay healthy, you ask? Watch what you eat and drink, make time for a bit of exercise after you wake up instead of before you go to bed, block out the light when it’s time to sleep and stick to a schedule.
What are the most common challenges of working a night shift?
Perhaps you’re a night owl or an introvert and the thought of a quiet, late-night shift appeals to you. You are, in fact, probably a good candidate for this type of work. But even if you’re cut out to be a night nurse, chances are you’ll face some hurdles. Here are some of the most common challenges:
- To wake or not to wake the doctor: During the night shift, the doctor may not be around, and you’ll have to decide when it’s appropriate to call them for advice on a patient.
- Sleepiness and lack of focus: Even if you have your sleep routine down to a science, you may experience grogginess during the night shift. Studies show an increase in on-the-job injuries and errors during late shifts.
- Irregular work hours: We’ve highlighted the importance of getting into a rhythm, but some night shifters simply can’t. Healthcare professionals working days and nights on a rotating shift schedule will have a harder time creating a sleep pattern that works.
We like to think we know a bit about catching shuteye because, after all, we make scrubs so comfy you could sleep in them. We also like to keep up to date on ways to help you stay up so that you’re bright-eyed and focused while on the job—no matter what shift you work.