Surviving Night Shift
If you’re like me, your 4th semester preceptorship is on night shift and you have no idea how you are going to survive. Even if you snagged a fabulous day shift precept spot, chances are you’ll be a night shift nurse as a new-grad anyway….and knowing how to survive could mean the difference between loving your job and absolutely dreading it. With these tips, you’ll be rocking night shift like a pro!
Night Shift Tip 1: The sleep schedule
If you are flipping back and forth between days/nights you’ll probably approach your sleep schedule differently than if you are transitioning over to a night owl completely. If you’re a student who is precepting on nights, then you’ll definitely have to do the ol’ switcharoo each and every week…here’s how to do it.
Let’s say your precept shifts are Sunday and Monday nights, with day-time commitments on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. ALWAYS give yourself a day to sleep after your shift…meaning DO NOT come off your shift and go straight to class. Comprende? You will also NOT want to go work your night shift after being awake all day…even if you’re young and feel super-human this is not healthy and sets yourself up for total exhaustion.
- Saturday: Sleep in as late as you can and then stay up as late as possible…at least 2am.
- Sunday: Sleep in as late as possible, then get up for a bit and do whatever you need to do. Then, force yourself to lie down for a long nap…if you can get 4 hours in, that’s ideal. Get up around 5pm and go to your shift 🙂
- Monday: come home from the hospital and sleep at least 6 hours, then go to your shift Monday night.
- Tuesday: sleep as much as you need to, but don’t go overboard. Maybe get up around 2pm and use this time to take care of things that don’t require much brain power (errands, laundry, busy work, etc…) Go to bed at a normal time (and definitely no later than midnight).
- Wednesday-Friday: Wake up bright and early…you’re a “day person” again!
If you are working nights and NOT having to switch back and forth, my advice would be to stay as “night-owlish” as possible without sacrificing your entire life to living in darkness. If you can handle it, do your three shifts in a row and then the rest of the time be a night-owl, but don’t stay up all night. Aim to be an “in bed 3am-ish” type of night-owl so you can still be up and around during the day somewhat. That way you don’t feel like you’re not a part of society, but the transition back and forth isn’t as jarring for your system. The challenge is to stay productive during the wee hours of the night. One of the great things about being a night owl is it’s a perfect time to go grocery shopping (no one is there, except maybe for party-goers looking for a late night snack), pursue a hobby or do random chores around the house. While the temptation to simply stream movies from 10pm-3am every night is probably great, approach these quiet hours as a legitimate part of your day and make the most of them.
Night Shift Tip 2: No, it’s not a nap
You HAVE to prioritize your sleep when working NOCs. (Psssst…”NOC” is the insider term for “night shift.” I have no idea what it stands for but it basically means graveyard shift and NOT the evening shift which are typically called “PMs” by those in the know). People that think your sleep is a “nap” need to be woken at 2am and expected to function coherently. Communicate clearly to everyone in your household that you are NOT to be disturbed for any reason short of fire, nuclear armageddon or copious amounts of bleeding. Place a “Nurse Sleeping. Do Not Disturb” sign on the front door to discourage anyone from waking you and enjoy your well-deserved slumber.
Night Shift Tip 3: Day sleeping like a champ
Sleeping during the day goes against our bodies’ natural rhythms and can be a bit of a challenge for some. Thankfully, there are some things you can do to make your day-time sleep as restful as your night-time sleep:
- Protect your eyes from light: As soon as you get off shift, put on some dark sunglasses for the drive home. When you get home, switch your sunglasses for blue-light blocking glasses such as these orange ones. According to some super smart folks, light from certain parts of the spectrum (including blue light) inhibits the body’s natural production of melatonin, which is essential for good sleep. Here’s an interesting article from the New York Times about using these glasses, which you can find on Amazon in a goggle style to be worn over your regular glasses and in a traditional style you can wear without glasses (and look slightly less dorky). #ad Another way to reduce your exposure to light is to avoid using electronics in bed. While the temptation to pop on a Netflix while you drift off to sleep is overwhelming, try to stick to good “sleep hygiene” and read a book instead (no, not on your Kindle unless you’ve got night-mode available!)
- Make your room a cool, dark cave: Black-out curtains (#ad) will be your very very very best friend. To take things a little further you may want to invest in a super comfy eye mask such as this one (#ad) by Tempur-Pedic…it’s made of memory foam and is convex over your eyes so you can blink easily and enjoy some REM sleep without your eyes being restricted by a mask that presses down hard on your face. It’s a delight.
- Block out as much sound as possible: If you’re a light sleeper, then sleeping during the day is going to be a challenge. Not only do you possibly have other people in the house while you’re trying to sleep, but there’s barking dogs, lawn mowers, leaf blowers, delivery trucks, people talking in their back yards and so on and so forth. A good pair of ear plugs (#ad) can make a huge difference. Let’s face it…the world was not made for people who sleep during the day.
Night Shift Tip 4: Fuel your body properly
If there’s one thing you’ll learn about night shift is that there always seems to be food in the break room. To be more specific, there always seems to be junk food in the break room. While a decadent treat or salty pile of chips might sound like JUST the thing you need at 3am, try to stick to eating nutritious food to give your body the fuel it needs to perform your demanding job. Eating a large meal could invite sleepiness, so opt to have small, healthy snacks throughout the night to keep your blood sugar nice and level and your belly comfortably satisfied.
Night Shift Tip 5: Drink more water, less coffee
Night shift nurses LOVE their coffee. Make a fresh pot and you’ll make a bunch of new friends, fast. My advice is to have your coffee early in the shift, just as you would on any “regular” work day and then try to steer clear of it the rest of the time. if you feel your energy lagging, there’s a good chance you’re not drinking enough water so reach for that, instead. Because working as a nurse is so demanding, we often don’t drink enough fluids during our 12 hour shifts anyway and dehydration is always lurking right around the corner. Enjoy your “wake-up” cuppa joe, but go for water the rest of your shift and you’ll likely feel a whole heck of a lot better.
Night Shift Tip 6: Stay busy even when you’re not
Though night shifts can be very busy, there are times when you’ve got everything under control and you may feel your attention and energy start to wane. This is when you should look for things to do around the unit to stay busy, otherwise you risk actually getting more and more tired. You could give the glucometers a QC check, wipe down all the counter-top surfaces at the nurses station, set-up the empty rooms so they’re ready for their next patients, offer to help a co-worker, organize the equipment room or walk a few flights of stairs to get your heart pumping. Of course, this is all assuming you’re LOOKING for something to do. If your patients are busy, you’ll be plenty occupied just trying to stay ahead of the game!
Night Shift Tip 7: Take advantage of your down-time (if you have any!)
If you find you have spare time, take the opportunity to read up on your patient’s chart. I can’t count how many times a night-shift nurse has caught something that had otherwise gone unnoticed, or how much a day-shift nurse appreciates a very thorough hand-off report from a NOC nurse who had read every word of the H&P (History & Physical). Plus, you’ll learn a lot from reading the physician notes and seeing what others have done before you…patient short or breath? Did it happen before? What did they do about it? What helped? What didn’t? Is your patient tachycardic? Was it pain, was an EKG done, did some ativan do the trick? The medical record is a wealth of information, so if you have time…give it a thorough read and then pass what you learned on to the next nurse…they’ll thank you, I promise!
Night Shift Tip 8: Bond with your coworkers
Night shift nurses share a special bond and level of camaraderie that I’ve never experienced anywhere else. Working nights means you have to rely on your team more AND be more resourceful. So get in there and help the other nurses, get to know them better, bring in healthy snacks to share and try to find the fun in an otherwise stressful and demanding 12 hours. Some of my most fun times as a nurse was working with my night crew…they’re generally more laid-back than day-shift nurses and will sometimes even go out for morning cocktails after an especially trying shift…if invited, always say YES. The stories you will hear are MORE than worth it (providing you don’t have to come back to work that night…otherwise get your sleep!). And, of course, don’t drink and drive!!
I do hope these tips will help you manage working nights like a seasoned pro. And, please note that the affiliate links to products I recommend help support this site and keep it plugging along! I wouldn’t recommend them if they weren’t awesome, so at least you know you’re in good hands. Best of luck on your night shift adventure! You’re going to love it!
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