Full-time jobs for most people follow roughly a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule, or, at least “working hours” are daytime hours. Nurses are an exception to this rule since patient care doesn’t stop when business hours are over; it’s a 24/7 job.
Our bodies have an internal clock that helps control when we feel sleepy or alert and tells us when it’s time to wake up or go to bed. Nurses working the night shift have to reset this clock, which can be difficult for some people and can lead to shift work sleep disorder (SWSD). The most common symptoms of SWSD are difficulty getting to and staying asleep, but studies show that SWSD also increases the probability of accidents and work-related errors, affects mood, causes gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and metabolic issues, and increases a person’s likelihood of developing an alcohol or drug dependency.
But, just like we can train our bodies to run a mile, we can also train our bodies to sleep at non-traditional hours and be alert in the middle of the night. This article will explore ways nurses can successfully adjust to working the night shift and offer advice from other nurses who’ve made the transition.
Chapter 1: How to Adjust to Working the Night Shift
Chapter 2: Tips for Night Shift Nursing
Chapter 3: Night Shift Nurse Quotes
How to Adjust to Working the Night Shift
Nurses often work 12-hour shifts, and their schedules sometimes require rotating between shifts (from days to nights or vice versa). Adjusting to the night shift means changing most aspects of one’s life and can be stressful. For example, it can be difficult for people who work “regular” hours to get enough sleep, so it’s even trickier for night shift nurses to get the rest they need to perform best at work.
And it’s not only sleep schedules that get disrupted. It might also take some planning to meet up with friends or find time to share a meal with family since chances are a night shift nurse’s friends and family aren’t on the same schedule.
Learning how to prepare for night shift nursing can be one of the biggest obstacles can be a big obstacle to overcome, but by adjusting your environment, mindset and even your eating habits, you can successfully transition into working the night shift.
- Adjusting your sleep schedule
- Establish a new routine – This schedule provided by Charmane Eastman, PhD, a professor and researcher at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago can help you map out your daily schedule when adjusting to night shift.
- Adjust your sleeping space — Making adjustments to your bedroom, such as using light-blocking curtains or a tool to block ambient noise, can help night shift nurses improve the quality of their rest.
- Banish interruptions – Studies show that turning off electronics, including phones, several hours before bedtime can improve sleeping habits.
- Adjusting your eating patterns
- How sleep affects diet – Read here about how much sleep you get can affect how much you eat and how healthy your eating habits are.
- Diet also affects sleep patterns – Researchers also found that the foods we eat change the quality and duration of our sleep.
- Eat certain foods at certain times – Here are some tips for avoiding weight gain and eating healthy as a night shift nurse.
- Mental preparation exercises
- Mindful meditation advantages – Harvard medical professionals explain in this article why meditation can improve sleep times and quality.
- Meditation routine for sleeping – Here’s a guided nine-minute meditation routine that could help relax you for sleep.
- Five exercises to help you sleep – These simple habits could help you get to sleep easier and stay asleep longer
Tips for Night Shift Nursing
Staying healthy while working the night shift is about more than just getting used to being awake when the rest of the world is sleeping. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, night shift employees are at a higher risk of developing serious health problems, such as diabetes, breast cancer, heart attack and obesity.
But tips for working night shift don’t all have to involve high doses of caffeine or other extreme methods. With the right preparation, routine and habits, night shift nurses can handle their schedule change without negatively affecting their health. Here are some ways you can cope with working as a night shift nurse.
- Eat a healthy diet
- Snacks that provide energy without the crash – These snack ideas provide protein and nutrients that help avoid the post-snack sugar coma.
- Nutrient-rich foods – Here’s a list of foods that offer the most nutrients per serving to help keep energy levels up no matter what time of day (or night) it is.
- Consume light, smaller meals frequently – Studies show that eating small frequent meals can help regulate blood sugar, decrease hunger and prevent impulse snacking.
- Use caffeinated products wisely – Experts recommend avoiding caffeinated products, including chocolate, for a few hours before bedtime.
- Maintain a healthy sleeping routine
- Avoid light – This article makes the case for keeping our bedrooms as dark as possible and avoiding blue light before bedtime.
- Stick to a consistent sleep schedule – Keeping a regular sleep schedule, even on weekends, can lead to better overall sleep. Here are some tips for being consistent.
- Socialize with coworkers
- Be communicative and a team player – Socializing with coworkers is important on many levels, according to this Forbes
- Bonding with coworkers can enhance your mood – Creating meaningful friendships at work has many positive effects.
- Establish work and life balance
- Clearly communicate your schedule to your family – Read some tips in this article for discussing your work schedule and scheduling family time.
- Communicate regularly – Read about the benefits of planning a weekly family meeting to help scheduling run as smooth as possible.
- Stay active during breaks – No time to go to the gym? Here are 12 exercises you can do at work on your breaks.
- Develop an exercise plan – Even committing 20 to 30 minutes a day three times per week to a workout will produce noticeable fitness improvements.
Night Shift Nurse Quotes and Resources
Nurses hold one of the most important and difficult positions out there. The field can be unforgiving and demanding — being around injured and unwell patients day in and day out can be a challenge. Nurses must be compassionate and helpful while also having the wherewithal to make hard choices about medical care and life-altering decisions about a patient’s problems and needed care.
Nursing is both physically exhausting and emotionally draining, and nurses lean on each other to cope with the daily demands. Take a look at these inspirational words from people who understand just how important nurses are to our healthcare system.
“A nurse dispenses comfort, compassion and caring, without even a prescription.”
“Nurses are the heart of healthcare.”
-Donna Wilk Cardill
“A nurse is compassion in scrubs.”
“The character of the nurse is as important as the knowledge she possesses.”
“Every nurse was drawn to nursing because of a desire to care, to serve, or to help.”
–Christina Feist-Heilmeier, RN
While education and experience play a large role in nurses’ ability and skill set, there are innate qualities and goals some people have that make them ideal candidates for this demanding profession. Here are some resources about what makes an excellent nurse and how nurses make a difference.
- Top strengths of a nurse
- Is the Nursing Profession Right for You? – Nurses weigh in on what qualities nurses should possess.
- MD Magazine – One doctor’s take on three traits all nurses should have.
- Nursefuel – this page is full of nursing quotes to help you get through your day.
- Motivation and goals
- Why Should You Set Nursing Goals? – This article on MinorityNurse.com discusses why setting professional nursing goals is important.
- Top 10 Reasons the Night Shift Rules – Here’s a humorous list of advantages many don’t consider when thinking about becoming a night shift nurse.
- Nurses’ impact and importance
- Registered Nurses as Caregivers: Influencing the System as Patient Advocates – Read about the wide influence nurses have over patient care and outcomes.
- Nurses: Their Vital Role in Transforming Healthcare – This video explores the impact nurses have on our healthcare system.
With the right planning and preparation for night shift nursing, your transition from day worker to night owl can be successful and smooth. Following the tips outlined here can help you make the shift to night shift work, and asking your fellow nurses and other night shift co-workers what works for them can also produce some great advice. Learn how completing the Online Master of Science in Nursing at Regis College can help advance your career.