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7 Tricks For Nurses to Survive Night Shifts

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By Rozzette Cabrera, R.N.

Admit it. Like most nurses, you’ve probably dreaded going through the graveyard shift at some point in your career. Disruptions in your sleep-wake cycle, decreasing level of energy and a decline in your social life are probably what fueled your distaste about the schedule.

Unfortunately, the tough battle of a night shift isn’t all about what happens to your body post duty. It’s more on how you can actually last the whole 8-hour shift. To help you stay productive throughout the night, here are 7 must-do tricks for you.

1. Invest on sleep.

Getting enough sleep beforehand can help you stay productive all night long. If you can’t get a few hours of sleep, try to take a short nap before your actual shift begins.

You could also use an eye mask to help you sleep. Restoration Sleep Mask via Amazon.

It can also help if you can squeeze a few minutes of rest during the night. You should keep in mind, however, that sleeping while on duty entails risks and neglecting duty. Decrease alertness, for example, can happen when sleep gets disrupted halfway. It also isn’t recommended if you have patients for close monitoring.

After your shift, it’s equally important to take at least eight hours of sleep to help your body rest and renew itself. It might be tempting to set aside sleep to spend time on other things but resting your body after a hard night shift can make the rest of your free time more enjoyable.

2. Stay productive.

Instead of sitting down and doing nothing, keeping your body in motion can help keep your mind alert.

If you’re through with the hour’s tasks, walk around to check on your patients. You can also check on your area’s equipment or do an inventory of your stocks, if that’s your thing. A few stretching exercises can also help improve your wakefulness. Keep that mind active so it doesn’t doze off.

3. Eat healthy snacks.

While eating a hearty meal before your duty seems like a good idea, it can actually make you feel less productive during your shift. Your digestive system requires more energy when it’s digesting a large meal. As a result, you feel sleepy, sluggish and too lazy to move.

Eat healthy snacks.
Practice what you preach. Eat healthy snacks as what you would want your patients to do.

Instead of eating a huge meal, try cutting out on what you eat before your shift begins. Bring a few healthy snacks that you can munch on while on duty. It can be as simple as oatmeal cookies, fruits or even a healthy sandwich. You can keep some of these inside your pockets so you can conveniently reach out and eat them even when you’re on a toxic shift.

4. Try caffeinated drinks.

Drinking coffee or any other caffeinated drink before your shift can help you stay awake. You should keep in mind, however, that caffeine usually takes some time before it takes effect. Because of this, it isn’t really recommended that you drink coffee or tea at the last hours of your shift. The caffeine in these drinks will only interrupt your after-shift sleep.

5. Stay hydrated.

Water intake is essential, no matter what shift you are in. Unfortunately, most nurses tend to cut back on their water intake to limit the breaks they need to take to use the restroom. A number of studies done over time have linked dehydration to lower physical and mental performance. If you want to stay productive the whole night, stay hydrated.

Not enough water and dehydration can make you feel irritable. Headaches and a decreased level of energy are also fairly common among nurses who skip the required daily water intake. It’s not necessary that you drink 6-8 glasses of water on your shift but a few glasses throughout the night won’t surely hurt.

6. Embrace the light.

Light lamps like this can help reset your body clock. Lightphoria Energy Lamp via Amazon.

When you’re on a night shift, you don’t get the light exposure you receive when working during the day. This can make you feel low, unproductive and even depressed-like. To address these effects, make sure you get even a few minutes of sunlight during the day. You can try leaving your home for work earlier than usual or take a short walk after your post duty rest. Studies show that timed exposure to bright light can be used to adjust your body’s sleep cycle. Artificial bright light can affect the body clock in the same way that sunlight does.

During your shift, it’s best if you can have all the lights in your area turned on. If dimming lights are required, try to stay on the well-lit part of your area as much as possible.

7. Engage in a conversation.

Reaching out to your co-worker during your shift isn’t a bad idea. Aside from that it helps you stay awake, it also serves as a good way to bond and build a healthier working relationship. You’ll be amazed to find that they also have a few tips and tricks to share with you.

Tell us your tips and tricks too on how you survive your night shifts. 

Rozzette Cabrera is a registered nurse pursuing her childhood dream of becoming a professional writer. She spent a few years putting her profession into practice until she decided to take her chances with freelance writing over a year ago. Her life has never been the same since then.

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