Guide to Surviving the Night Shift

Whether you tend to be a night owl or an early bird, working the night shift can be rough. Unfortunately, it's a part of life for many nurses and other medical professionals. Working night shifts can contribute to a wide range of health problems, and can interfere with the body's natural ability to repair itself. While you may not be able to avoid working overnights, there are things that you can do to help cope with being at work during the hours when your body thinks you should be sleeping. Keep reading to discover a few tips on surviving the night shift as a nurse.

Schedule Sleep

Working the night shift forces, you to fight your body's natural circadian rhythm in order to stay awake when you are biologically programmed to be sleeping. The circadian rhythm is heavily influenced by natural light and dark cycles, so, when it starts getting dark, certain body processes slow down in order to get you ready for sleep. The pineal gland releases a hormone known as melatonin, which increases your desire to sleep. This is, of course, problematic when your day needs to begin after dark. Scheduling sleep is the best way to successfully fight against your body's natural rhythm. Regardless of what shift you work, you need between seven and nine hours of sleep. Make sure you schedule to get that sleep during the day if you need to be working at night. Keep your room as dark and quiet as possible to help ensure restful daytime sleep. You may need blackout curtains and earplugs. Avoid smoking or drinking before bed, as these activities can negatively affect your quality of sleep and make it difficult to get the rest you need.

Control Your Exposure to Light

Because natural light and dark cycles have an impact on your body's natural sleep patterns, controlling your exposure to light can make surviving the night shift much easier. During your shift, expose yourself to bright light as much as possible. The artificial light from overhead lights, desk lamps, etc. can all help you stay more awake. Even if your exposure is intermittent, it can “trick” your body into thinking it's daytime. When you leave work in the morning, wear sunglasses to minimize your exposure to the sun. Avoid watching television or looking at your phone before you go to bed, as the blue light from digital devices can throw your circadian rhythm off balance. Use blackout blinds or curtains in your bedroom, or wear a sleep mask. Taking simple steps to control your exposure to light can help you beat your body's natural circadian rhythm and make surviving the night shift much easier.

Be Careful with Caffeine

Plenty of nurses rely on caffeine to make it through their night shifts. While it is a stimulant that can help you stay awake, when used incorrectly, it can cause problems ranging from muscle shakes to gastrointestinal upset. If you attempt to wake yourself up before your shift by consuming a large amount of caffeine, you probably aren't going to get the results you want. It is better to consume smaller amounts throughout the day if you want to stay awake and mentally sharp. Keep in mind, though, that you shouldn't consume any caffeine during the six hours or so before you plan on going to bed. Doing so could result in being unable to sleep.

Watch What You Eat (and Drink)

A healthy diet is always important. It's especially important, though, when your body's natural balance is thrown off-track by your work schedule. People who work the night shift are more likely to develop metabolic syndrome. They are also more likely to become obese or overweight. If you work nights, try to maintain a consistent eating schedule that's similar to the one you would follow if you worked days. Choose foods that are easy to digest and avoid those that are difficult to digest. Instead of eating a few heavy meals, opt for several light meals or healthy snacks. Stay away from sugary foods. While sugary snacks can give you a short-term boost of energy, they tend to leave you feeling worse in the end. A sugar crash is never a fun thing to deal with when you are at work. When you need a snack, fruits and veggies are a better choice. Their natural sugars are converted into energy slowly, so they give you a bit of a boost without the crash. Plus, they are loaded with other minerals and vitamins that your body needs. Staying hydrated is important, too. Drink plenty of water throughout your shift, but try not to drink too much before you go to bed. Overloading your bladder with fluids before bed is a good way to ensure that you won't get the restful sleep that you need in order to prepare for your next shift.

Take Care of Yourself

Taking care of yourself is always important, but it's even more vital when your job forces you to fight your body's natural rhythms. Your core body temperature typically drops at night, so make sure you're dressed to stay warm with scrub jackets and cozy socks. It's also smart to invest in comfortable footwear to help keep fatigue at bay. Exercise before the start of your shift to get your blood and endorphins pumping. Also, know your limits. If you are finding it impossible to get the rest you need while working nights, consider switching to a different shift or taking a few days off. If you're unable to make a change to your schedule, talk to a medical professional. They may be able to help you improve your sleep schedule and live a healthy life while working nights. Working overnight is no easy task, but it's something that many nurses need to do in order to ensure round-the-clock patient care. If you are struggling with surviving the night shift, the tips above should help you learn how to thrive even when you are working challenging hours. If the idea of working night shifts intrigues you, then a career in the health care field might be right up your alley. Concorde offers 20 plus programs in health care and one of them could be the right fit for you. Take a look and see if a career in health care is what you've been looking for.
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