Night shift nursing comes with its fair share of challenges. Taking your first night shift can be a huge shock to the system, as you must adjust your entire schedule to accommodate. With this guide, any healthcare provider (HCP) can make the necessary changes and succeed in their evening roles.
Why do nurses take on a night shift?
A patient’s medical conditions do not cease to exist, when they fall asleep. Patients require round-the-clock observation and care services from HCPs. There are also several personal reasons as to why a healthcare provider may prefer the night shift. Though it is still busy, hospitals typically see less visitors and staff in the night time. This makes it preferable for healthcare providers who prefer working with some peace and quiet. Because of how difficult yet important night-time nursing can be, evening shift HCPs usually earn bigger paychecks thanks to more favorable shift differentials.
What are the unique challenges presented by the night time shift?
Not everything is smooth sailing for the evening HCP. Physically adjusting to a night time schedule can be a brutal challenge. Like most creatures on Earth, humans follow a 24-hour Circadian rhythm where physical, mental, and behavioral changes occur based on a response to light and dark. As part of this cycle, melatonin releases in your body in the evening and causes you to get sleepy. Taking up the night shift will require you to break your own natural rhythm, which can cause insomnia, fatigue, poor quality sleep, and more.
Committing to the night shift may also disrupt your daily plans and activities. You are likely going to be working while your friends and family are asleep, and resting while they are awake. It is not impossible to accommodate for this, but it will require a massive collaborative effort and communication between everyone involved.
How do I survive as a night shift nurse?
Anyone can pull an all–nighter, whether it is at work or as a student. To thrive as an evening shift nurse, however, you need to make several adjustments to your regular routine. For your physical and mental well-being, these are the changes you must be ready to commit to, before you take on a night shift:
Make friends with fellow night shift workers
No one said you had to make these changes alone. Take this as an opportunity to build a rapport with your unit. Because of its unique demands, there is a greater sense of camaraderie between night shift workers. They may even provide some advice on what adjustments to make, or how to coordinate different schedules. Even outside of work, you can get familiar with other night owls such as designers and writers who work on overseas schedules, security guards, and more. Being able to talk to people who understand the unique demands of evening work can mean a lot.
Make changes to your diet
Studies have shown that night shift workers are 23% more susceptible to obesity. To stay awake, many HCPs end up turning to sugar and carbohydrate-rich dishes for a jolt of energy and stimulation. These make you sleepier throughout the entire day. Vegetables, healthy proteins, yogurt, nuts, and fruit are both flexible and nutritious, at the same time. Eating during the night also causes higher blood sugar. While your sleep schedule will change, you want to continue eating throughout the daytime while avoiding any big meals between 12am to 6am. If you must eat during your shift, stick to small healthy snacks spread throughout your shift.
Set a new sleep schedule
Getting into a new sleep schedule is a unique challenge, but it is not necessarily impossible. You must fight your natural circadian rhythm, so there must be an allotted adjustment period. Experts recommend that you set aside at least a week before you start your new shift, to get used to sleeping throughout the day and staying awake at night. You will struggle to make these changes at first, but in time you will adjust.
Communicate and collaborate
Committing to a night shift is also a major personal adjustment. You must take extra effort to spend time with your friends and family, but it is possible. There are pockets of time where both of you will be awake and free. Take advantage of this and plan some family time ahead. Be transparent throughout the entire process, and walk your family through your entire plan. Tell them why you want to take on a night shift role, how this will change your schedule, and the compromises you both must make if you want to spend time together. This step may prove to be the most important in the long term.
Taking on a night shift presents several unique challenges. In some ways, you must go against your natural instincts and body clock to make it work. As such, it is not for every HCP. If you are willing to accept the sacrifices, however, then the rewards are plentiful. Night shift nurses are compensated better, and enjoy a slightly more peaceful environment. In some ways, there is a special camaraderie between fellow night owls that cannot be found anywhere else. Night shift nurses who are willing to make these compromises will find a richly rewarding line of work, both personally and professionally.