Back to the Dark Side! Night Shift Life. Survival Guide.
It's back to the dark side for me! Working night shift is not for the faint of heart. Many of us in the healthcare field work on "the dark side." No matter the shift, we must report for duty fully prepared to perform at our best. As much as we joke (we are UNWELL #facts), it is imperative for us working night shift to get sufficient sleep, eat healthy (or as healthy as we can), keep our physical activity up, and somehow maintain our mental health & relationships. (a TALL order if you ask me!)
While some true night owls prefer this schedule, working through the night is challenging for most of us night shifters. If you are like me, you might find yourself spending a chunk of your time off recovering from your shifts. But there are ways you can work the night shift and stay healthy — and caring for your own health is imperative and will help you care more effectively for others. There are a few key things I have pulled together working as a night shifter over the years.
11 SURVIVAL TIPS FOR NIGHT SHIFT WORKERS
1. MAKE A ROUTINE
Easier said than done, but important to consider! Try to maintain a consistent schedule for your work & sleep schedule. This varies week to week, but there are some nuances to making this happen. Set a clear schedule for when you will sleep after your shift and stick to it. Some nurses prefer to maintain their daytime sleep schedule on off days to keep their bodies and minds ready for work, while others prefer to adjust their schedule to match that of their families.
Finding your own routine can help! Preparing for night shift, I ensure to sleep in as much as I can and do "low energy" tasks during the day preparing for my shift that night. (I don't nap well during the day, so SLEEPING IN (front loading my sleep) is the best option for me prior to night shift.) Others maintain a normal sleep pattern and nap prior to work. After working my shift: I typically try to sleep 4-5 hours and then try to get back to my sleep routine that night. Post-shift looks like: home, shower, eat a light breakfast (dinner), wind down with (a little) Netflix, and try to be asleep by 9:30-10AM. On days I am OFF, I aim for 8-9 hours of sleep. Whatever your body needs, keeping your routine can help!
Learning how to adapt to a different sleep schedule is one of the hardest obstacles that a night shift worker must master – especially since our sleeping pattern is one that is in reverse to the majority of the population, including our family & friends.
Fun Fact! The greatest threat to our health as night shifters relates to the effects of chronic sleep deprivation. Among the risks resulting from sleep deprivation are a doubling of the chances of being in an auto accident after getting less than 6 hours of sleep in the previous 24 hours and a quadrupling of the risk after getting fewer than 5 hours of sleep. Therefore, this is a HUGE piece of our lifestyle and a hard one at that.
SLEEP OPTIMIZATION! INVEST IN YOUR BEDROOM SANCTUARY! This is a big piece of my schedule. Make sure your sleep space is conducive to rest. (Think dark, cold, cozy, room optimized with clean sheets and ready for you to fall into after a long shift). Our bodies and minds use light to determine whether we should be awake or asleep. Invest in shades, blackout curtains, an eye mask and earplugs to convince your mind it's dark and time for sleep. You can also use the CALM app, Headspace, AMSR on Youtube (yes, I'm obsessed and it helps me fall asleep) or a white noise machine. I'm telling you, invest in your sleep area! Many nurses (including myself) struggle with the "hangover" feeling commonly occurring the day or two after working a night shift. And proper sleep is a big piece of that. Adjusting back to activities can be difficult, but maximizing your sleep / bedroom environment is key!
Make your bedroom a sanctuary.
Best mattress, sheets, air purifier, salt rock lamp....best sleep ever vibes!
3. MEAL PREP
Night-shift work may alter your eating patterns (which impact your body’s regulator responses to metabolism) and food choices. Good planning and preparation can go a long way to promoting and ensuring healthy and optimal eating for nurses working night shift.
Do your grocery shopping with a list to help you focus on buying healthy foods and avoiding overly refined sugar snacks that provide quick energy but big swings. Or if you are like me, get your groceries delivered to your doorstep. Thank you Amazon and InstaCart. lol. (With the occasional Taco Bell post night shift breakfast sprinkled in there lol).
4. SHIFT PREP
Preparing for night shift is a big piece of success. AKA scrubs laid out, lunch prepped, bag ready to go etc. Here are a few things I have added to my work bag when heading into work.
Jacket / Vest
ibuprofen / Aspirin
Mouthwash (swish once a shift to decrease maskne bacteria build up in the mouth)
4. SNACKS OR HEALTHY “PICK ME UPS”
All night shifters have that “hit the wall hour” (usually 2-4am) To help you combat the tired wave, a “PICK ME UP” can help. Here are a few suggestions with crowd sourcing and additions taken from IG question box! (Caffeine is something you will learn to balance throughout your shifts. Everyone is different. I usually stop caffeine around 2-3am).
6. MINI cucumbers and hummus
7. Tuna salad on rice cake (manage cravings)
11. Boiled egg + avocado + sriracha sauce + toast
13. Dried figs trader joes
14. Froze balls from Traders Joes
22 Apple + PB
23 Avocado Toast
25 Soup (goes down a little easier)
26 Protein shake
27 Basically something to look forward to
5. TAKE BREAKS (YES, NAPS IF POSSIBLE)
We work long shifts, this is essential to your work performance. You’ve heard it before: don’t skip breaks or meals during your shift, and take advantage of designated rest areas. If you are able to, get off your feet, nap, plug in the airpods, and take time to rejuvenate. You need to care for yourself, and your patients are counting on you to stay sharp.
6. BOND FRIENDSHIPS WITH YOUR CO-WORKERS
Night shift people are the best breed of people! Dark lifestyle coupled with dark humor. Just our kind of people! In all seriousness, this is a HUGE piece of surviving night shift. Your people! One of the best ways to make it easier for you to serve your patients during the night is to have a smooth and friendly relationship with your colleagues. It definitely helps you to get less bored and tired. Moreover, you won’t feel hesitation to ask for help or to communicate about the patients. Besides all this, a good teamwork is required when it comes to healthcare and if you share a friendly bond with your co-workers, it will certainly reflect on your performance as a team.
7. STAY HYDRATED
We often over look this. Coupled with eating healthy, staying hydrated will help keep you energized and alert. Avoid sugary sodas and fruit juices, which will make your blood sugar spike and then crash. Drinking enough water helps to regulate body temperature, prevent infections, deliver nutrients to cells, and keep organs functioning properly.10 Experts recommend about 11 cups (88 oz.) of water per day for the average woman and 16 cups (128 oz.) for the average man.
8. DRIVE SAFELY
At the end of your shift, you may be exhausted and drowsy. Make sure you take precautions to get home safely. Open your car windows and turn the radio up to keep yourself awake. If you do not feel you can safely drive, call someone to pick you up or enlist a car service to take you home. Please please be careful. I personally know night shifters who have landed in car accidents, so this is something you should not take lightly.
9. LOOK AFTER YOURSELF
The key message, then, is look after yourself when you’re working night shifts and be aware of the likely impacts on your personal well-being. Recouping after night shifts is important! Consider using a time-management strategy to create a schedule for other aspects of your daily life. You can plan out the best time for self-care activities like exercising, yoga, meditation, and napping, as well as household tasks such as cooking and cleaning and yes, sex!
Sleep being the most important! Consider sleep supplements if needed. Magnesium and our favorite BEAM DREAM (for me it is worth every penny) have become my "go to" pre bedtime routine. You can also consider Melatonin, Tylenol PM, etc. and speak to to your provider if needed. Regular exercise, time with family & friends and maintaining your lifestyle is still important etc. (My personal favorites: date nights with my hubby, getting a good pump, mani & pedicure, podcasting, blogging, facials, brunch, plant mom life, horse time, brunch with girlfriends etc.) xoxo
10. REALIZE THIS IS A LIFESTYLE CHANGE FOR YOU AND YOUR HOUSEHOLD.
Your family members / partner / roommates will have to understand that working night shift is a lifestyle. They may be seeing less of you on certain days, and may need to work around your sleep and waking schedule etc. – (which will require communication). It is important to get everyone on board to make some adjustments. This will include holidays, weekends, and an overall understanding of your work / sleep / and relationship needs. This can be a hard adjustment. Jacob and I share a GOOGLE CALENDAR which is our life saver! We share our work schedule, plug in work outs, date night, future trips, family holidays, etc. We live by the calendar!
11.DON'T FORGET YOUR LIBIDO AND MENTAL HEATLH
A big piece of night shift is the affect it can have on your libido, energy, and yes....sex life! This can be a hard one (tee hee) to maintain. But it is important for all of you in committed relationships. Don't neglect your sex life! Make time for date nights, possibly a quarterly get away (mini staycation or trip), and keep it fun. (Yes, this includes you with kids!) Unpopular Opinion, we choose this profession. Therefore, a piece of maintaining your personal relationships includes the romance. (Nothing is worth your family / personal life....I make this a priority.) Most days when I come home, I am exhausted and so worn down. But we make up for it! Catch my drift?
Also, keep up with your mental health. If you catch yourself going into a dark, depressed, empty, hallow, numb place....seeek help (can you tell I have been there?). Working on the dark side, has a dark side. So, if you need a little extra help reach out to someone. (As a resource BETTER HELP: 10% off your first month, the best investment to make for yourself!)
I hope you enjoyed this blog! Leave your thoughts in the comments below or suggestions for other night shift tips! Cheers to you in your night shift journey!
Tori Meskin BSN RNC-NIC. Nurse. Blogger. Podcaster. Tori has been a clinician since 2012, works in acute care/inpatient NICU & Pediatric settings in southern California. She is a blogger, podcaster, NICU & Pediatric Critical Care RN, Sponsored Capella University MSN student, a Barco Uniforms Ambassador & Brave beginnings Ambassador. She has obtained her National NICU Nurse Certification (RNC-NIC) & has previously worked as a travel nurse, pursuing bedside experiences in several NICU settings. Follow her as she shares her NICU journey married life & juggles work, school, content creation, & brings you top notch Tips & Tricks along the way. Find her at www.tipsfromtori.com or firstname.lastname@example.org