Working in healthcare isn’t easy, but that’s what makes it such a gratifying field to be a part of. Nursing is not the exception since it comes with huge responsibilities and a great deal of knowledge, and on top of all that, there are long and unusual work shifts. Even for the most experienced professionals, it can be hard to deal with the pressure of night shifts, so here are a few tips for handling them the best way possible.
The thing about nursing is that the workplace never really shuts down for the day like other jobs. Whether it’s 3 p.m. or a.m., patients are always taken care of, and multiple nurses are on duty. Night shifts are mistakenly thought of as ‘easier’, but the truth is- just because the facilities are quieter, it doesn’t mean there isn’t work to be done.
Nurses who work on night shifts can be on duty from sunset to sunrise, and in the long run, this has been proven to mess with a person’s both physical and psychological health. Irregular sleep patterns and waking cycles disturb the correct mechanisms of the human body, such as biochemical processes and hormone production.
Unusual shifts affect people emotionally, too, since REM studies have shown that night-shift workers do not get the right amount of deep sleep hours that are needed to restore emotional balance, resulting in a higher chance of irritability and mood disorders. That’s right, night shifts are not for everyone. But if you are one to endure demanding situations, here are some ways to get the best out of them.
You may not be getting the same sleeping schedule as the rest of your friends, but that doesn’t mean you get to prioritize theirs instead of yours. For at least seven hours, turn off your phone, close up the blinds, and make everything quiet to get good sleep. You may need some extra help to isolate yourself from the daylight and the noisy outdoors; in that case, earplugs and an eye mask can be your best friends. Try to stick to the same bedtime even on your days off if you don't want to experience jet lag without the benefit of traveling.
A consistent diet based on fruits, vegetables, and protein is advised to everyone, yet it’s especially important for night-shift nurses. They need the energy and benefit from staying fit to do their work. Feast on a nourishing meal before work and stock up on healthy and filling snacks (like hard-boiled eggs or protein bars) to stay active during those long night hours, avoiding the insulin spikes of easy choices like donuts or biscuits.
Several cups of coffee can be tempting to stay awake at night, but there are better ways to boost your energy. Try to stick to lighter forms of caffeine like green tea or other healthy beverages like green smoothies. As for coffee, a maximum of two and not later than 3 a.m. is recommended to prevent any trouble falling asleep once your shift ends. Most importantly, stay hydrated by drinking lots of water to maintain your energy levels and avoid gastrointestinal problems like nausea, bloating, constipation, and heartburn.
Even after successfully following all these tips, it is possible that the pressure and the unusual sleep schedule can get to you. If that’s the case, there are a few ways to deal with work stress.
First, anticipate the morning rush by starting early at night with the tasks that need to be done before the following day. Then you’ll have all night to take your time, avoiding the tension of working under pressure and maybe even taking some breaks in between. If allowed, you can nap and rest during those breaks or maybe go outdoors for a few minutes to calm down by breathing the night air.
A solid support system will become fundamental to sustaining your night-shift lifestyle. If everyone in your household respects compromises to your different sleep schedule, you won’t have problems with noise or distractions, which can make falling asleep easier. If your friends know about your work hours, they can accommodate plans and gatherings accordingly for you to take part in.
Your colleagues play a huge part in your support system as well. Try to bond with other nurses over the long shifts to make them more enjoyable and lean on them when they need tips or assistance.
Night shifts significantly impact a person’s health because they interrupt and invert the circadian rhythm, which is the 24-hour internal clock in our brain that regulates cycles of alertness and sleepiness by responding to light changes in our environment. This means that our physiology and behavior are shaped by the Earth’s rotation around its axis, and by working long shifts at night and sleeping during the day, the circadian rhythm is directly affected.
This disturbance in the circadian rhythm is far from trivial because it can mess up several aspects of the system’s natural processes, leading to numerous health conditions. For example, the production of certain hormones like melatonin is carried out during the night. Given that they act as important antioxidants against cancer, diabetes, and heart diseases, the risk of suffering from any of these conditions is higher when sleep cycles are disrupted.
According to the National Library of Medicine, interrupting the circadian rhythm also increases the chance of suffering from depression, impaired brain function, decreased reaction time, impaired memory and emotional control, early cognitive decline, and Alzheimer's.
There are advantages to the night shift in nursing, like the possibility of higher pay due to their high demand in the healthcare field and building stronger bonds on account of more direct patient care. Keep these in mind, and remind yourself that you are not alone. Your colleagues and workers in other areas like industrial operations and road transport driving do not only share how you feel. By following the tips we have mentioned and trying to keep a positive attitude towards it, you should be prepared to thrive on the late-night shifts.