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Top 10 tips for nurses surviving the night shift

Thursday, August 4th, 2022 | Blog

Working nights can be an arduous affair in any industry, but for over-stretched nurses with people’s wellbeing in their hands, the pressure and stress of providing quality healthcare on the night shift can often be difficult to adjust to. It’s not just the obvious lack of sleep that can affect nurses working through the night – there are social requirements, nutritional difficulties and family planning challenges to overcome. If you are transitioning to the night shift or even if you're a hardened veteran, we’ve compiled a list of top tips to help you adjust to the late-night way of life.

1) Get enough sleep – This is the obvious one, really. Working through the night means you’re working when you’re usually asleep and sleeping when you’re usually awake – a drastic change for your body clock to adjust to and one many nurses struggle with. Primarily, you have to make sleep a priority. When you feel tired after you finish your shift, make sure you act on this and get some shut-eye. This should come before going to the gym, doing the weekly food shop or meeting a friend for coffee. It doesn’t have to be your full 8-hours all at once, many nurses find two 4-hour sleeps a day means they get sufficient sleep but still have enough time in the day to run their errands and see family and friends.

2) Buy black-out blinds – Black-out blinds are a must-have for anyone working nights. Even once you have found a sleeping pattern that suits you, often sleeping in the daylight can be difficult and feel unnatural. The heavy-duty blinds eliminate natural light entering your bedroom and create a false night time affect. For that extra night time affect, you could even line your window frames and blinds with Velcro to seal the edges of your windows and eliminate any light that tries to seep through and use ear plugs to eliminate any traffic of day-time noise.

3) Trapped wind is normal – When your eating pattern is out of sync, sleeping pattern is in reverse and you’re eating all of the day shifts’ left overs, trapped wind and bloating is a common occurrence. You’ll probably find this out quickly, but you’re not alone and shouldn’t be embarrassed about it!

4) Drink coffee with care – It’s common knowledge caffeine helps you stay alert and fight off the effects of fatigue; so it’s no surprise it’s an obvious choice for many nurses trying to make it through the night. Although a trick that cannot be ignored, drinking too much coffee does have to be carefully monitored due its many adverse side effects. These include dehydration, headaches, muscle twitches and more – none of which you want when having to administering medication and tending to patients needs. As you begin to approach the end of your shift, remember you will soon be wanting to go home and get some sleep, so try and avoid caffeine during the last couple of hours of your shift.

5) Stay hydrated – As just mentioned, too much coffee can dehydrate you, but it’s not just coffee that presents nurses with this problem. Often on night shifts wards can be under staffed and finding time to grab a bite to eat or glass of water can be difficult. Dehydration can cause tiredness, confusion, dizziness and low levels of consciousness – reducing your productivity and responsiveness. Ensuring you sip at water throughout your shift will help avoid this risk and keep you feeling more alert and healthier in the long run.

6) Try and stick to regular meals – Not only is eating breakfast at 6pm, lunch at midnight and dinner and 8am an unusual eating pattern, it’s also difficult to facilitate – especially as a nurse who struggles to find time for a snack break, let alone a meal break! However, even if it’s not in aforementioned order, trying to have a proper meal three times a day, at similar times each day, is important to help keep you healthy, nourished and alert. Preparing meals in advance will help make it easier to stick to regular meal times and will allow you to eat around your sleeping pattern, ensuring you don’t go to bed on an empty stomach.

7) Take easy to eat and prepare nutritious snacks – Whether it’s pre-bought dried fruit, easy-to-pick-at grapes, nuts or rice crackers and cereal bars, taking food that can be easily nibbled at throughout the night are essential to keep your sugar levels up and hunger at bay. In particular, having a little pick-me-up before you slump (which is often around 3am or 4am) is much better than trying to pull yourself out of it after you have crashed. If you’re not sure what to take, head down to your local health store and browse their selection of savoury snacks and dried fruits.

8) Bond with your colleagues – Building relationships with your co-workers can have a multitude of benefits, but primarily it can make your shift run smoother and feel more enjoyable. Getting to know one another makes you feel more comfortable when asking for help, sharing the workload and communicating patient information. This will relieve stress on you and provide a better service and standard of care for patients. It will also allow you to confide in others when you have concerns or if the effects of fatigue begin to take a hold – something which our own Clinical Lead says has “driven her to tears” during some of her most gruelling nursing night shifts. Good team workers know when a colleague needs 5 minutes quiet time and when they need supporting through a rough patch. A solid team can make all the difference providing support, laughs and even the flatulence from night shifts.

9) Combat drowsiness with exercise – When you begin to feel tired, exercise is one of the last things you feel like doing. However, going for a short walk, using the stairs instead of the lift or even having a dance to your favourite song in the office can all help fight off drowsiness and get you feeling alert and ready-to-go again. It will also reduce the bloating from night working and make you feel altogether more comfortable

10) Plan your transport to and from work – Almost 20% of road accidents are linked to fatigue. With that in mind, when you’re finishing a 12-hour shift at 7am, will you really be in the right frame of mind to be driving your half hour commute home? Can you arrange a lift, catch a bus or, if driving is the only option, car share to help keep one another alert on the journey home and always keep the windows open so there is plenty of fresh air in the car - as a warm steamy car is not going to help sleepiness at all when driving. Those are our top ten tips for helping you get through your night shifts as pain-free as possible. What are the best tips you’ve ever been given for getting through the night shift? Share them with us and other nurses in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

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