You have chosen to be on the night shift for a variety of different reasons. You trade overnight shifts in order to spend more time with your family during the day or to get outside regularly to exercise your body and spirit. You don’t have to deal with rush hour traffic. You appreciate the quiet healthcare facility halls and the opportunity to be more self-reliant. However, working the graveyard shift is not always the easiest thing in the world, and fighting off sleep can be your biggest challenge. Fortunately, the more night shift schedules you take, the quicker your body adjusts. Keeping those hours regular and consistent also helps a lot. If you’re new to the world of working the night shift, here are some tips that you might find useful:
1—Take time to unwind
When you get home from work, take a little time to unwind. Don’t go to sleep right away, especially if you get home at daybreak. Your feet may be on fire and your eyes bloodshot, but fight off the urge to hit the sack. Relax on the couch, take a brisk morning walk, engage with the neighbors, or cook a light meal. Treat the end of your shift as you would if you were working during the day. This way, your sleep will be more relaxed and your body will adjust more rhythmically to your schedule.
2—Get your 8 hours of sleep
Some people need a little more, some a little less. But make sure you get enough sleep during your off hours. You will be able to better sustain your energy levels on your overnight shift if your body is fully recharged.
3—Make a gradual adjustment
In order to adjust more easily, some night shift healthcare professionals gradually work their way toward a nighttime schedule. If your schedule allows in the days leading up to your first night shift, try to go to bed a little later each night, and sleep a little later into the day. Your body will thank you!
4—Eat a full meal before going to work
During the day, nurses and physicians can easily skip breakfast because they know that if they get hungry, they can always go to the cafeteria. Night shift nurses might not find anything to eat during the night. Be sure to have a full, nutritious meal before leaving for the hospital, and bring snacks with you if you like. Protein-rich foods will help you to feel full, longer.
5—Schedule your personal business immediately after work
If you have the option, schedule your night shift so that you can do your food shopping, household chores, banking, kids’ school drop-offs, etc., immediately after your work. Try not to let your personal activities take up your precious sleeping time.
6—Wear sleep masks and earplugs
Many night shift healthcare pros swear by using sleep masks and earplugs (or a sound machine). By shutting out the bustling sounds and bright lights of the daytime world, these little items can help you achieve a deeper, sounder sleep. Cheat your body into thinking that it’s time for bed and it will behave accordingly.
You want to stay as healthy as possible, for yourself and your family. Don’t rely on a lot of caffeine to stay awake. Your body will not appreciate the mixed messages it’s getting and you will become jittery and cranky. Instead, help your body adapt to your nighttime work schedule. Ease into your new schedule by taking extra time for yourself at the beginning to adjust: get enough sleep, get enough exercise, and eat nutritiously. After your body has settled into its new routine it will be easier for you to manage those ad hoc daytime disruptions. At first it might be hard, but stick with it and you’ll do great!
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