Night Shift Nursing: 10 Tips to Staying Healthy
By Melissa Wirkus Hagstrom, contributor
Night shift nursing doesn’t have to require gallons of coffee and zombie-like walks down the unit hallway. In fact, with the right preparation and some new, healthy habits, night shift nurses can learn to enjoy their schedules while benefitting from great compensation, new experiences and a fresh approach to their nursing practice.
What does it take to adjust to night shift nursing?
Veterans of the late shift will attest to the fact that it takes some personal commitment, dedication and a solid plan. The following list of our top 10 tips for night shift nurses will help you get started.
Top 10 Tips: How to Adjust to Night Shift Nursing
1. Resolve to get plenty of healthy sleep
Start by taking a look at your current sleep habits. Are you getting the 7-9 hours of sleep every day that the National Sleep Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend?
If you are not currently reaching that marker, start by making that your goal in order to find night shift nursing success.
2. Cluster your night shifts together
Those who have learned how to adjust to night shift nursing will tell you that scheduling your shifts on consecutive nights is a key factor to help you make the change.
Hopefully those who oversee the scheduling understand that and will help make it happen.
This schedule allows for a lot more flexibility on your days off, and may help you find some time to take advantage of daytime hours, as well.
Bonus for travel nurses: clustering your shifts also allows you to do some extended exploring around your assignment city on the days or nights you aren’t working.
3. Stick to a routine
Once your night shift nursing schedule is set, make a note in your calendar of the hours that you will dedicate to sleep. Try to keep your bedtime and wake times consistent, while keeping in mind overtime and special events that may take place during the daytime hours.
Scheduling your sleeping times may sound strange, but it can help ensure you get enough hours of healthy sleep while still maintaining appointments and social obligations.
RELATED: 5 Easy Ways to Prepare for Night shift Nursing
4. Watch what you do on your days off…
While many night shift nurses try to keep their schedule consistent on their days off to keep their bodies from having to readjust, we know that many are going to try to use their daytime hours. You may need to experiment with what works for you.
One practice that researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center warn against is staying up for 12 hours or more before your first night shift of the week. Apparently 1 in 4 night shift nurses will try to do just that, according to their 2011 study.
This is actually the least effective strategy for adjusting your circadian clock to a night-time schedule, the researchers reported.
5. Go “unplugged” before bedtime
If you’re used to falling asleep with the TV on or with your phone buzzing by your bedside, you’ll want to adopt some different habits as a night shift nurse.
In fact, sleep experts recommend turning off all your devices at least an hour before you plan to go to bed. Creating a dark, quiet atmosphere is essential for getting some shut eye during the day. You essentially want to trick your body into thinking it’s nighttime so it begins to produce the chemicals needed to fall asleep.
Saying “no” to the stimulation and blue lights emitted from your favorite electronic devices before bedtime is important for both day-shift and night shift nurses who need their ZZZs.
6. Exercise regularly
This key tip on how to adjust to night shift nursing also works for other shifts.
Exercise may sound impossible to nurses working 12-hour shifts, but being consistent can help you maintain your energy and keep you at your best. If you can’t do a full workout on the days you work, at least get out and stretch your legs for a brisk walk, or do some yoga or another low impact activity. Then plan to go to the gym or work out with weights on your days off.
The CDC recommends one hour of exercise each day, mixing intermediate- and moderate-aerobic exercise and vigorous-intensity physical activity. Just don’t forget to consult your doctor before starting any new exercise program.
7. Stock up on nutrient-rich foods and H2O
Working the night shift means you can’t count on that natural foods spot around the corner being open during your mealtime; you’re going to have to bring more of your meals and snacks to work if you want to eat right. So stock up on nutrient-rich foods to stay healthy and energized.
Whip up a healthy smoothie to take with you to the hospital. Snack on fresh fruit, fresh vegetables and hummus, or a handful or nuts. Pack simple, balanced meals full of lean protein, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Filling up on the “good stuff” will help you keep sweets and fatty foods to a minimum.
It’s also vital to drink plenty of water throughout your shifts. Proper hydration will help you maintain your energy level and feel less hungry.
8. Fight temptation
Whether it’s the urge to have more coffee and a chocolate bar for dinner or to go meet a friend for lunch when you know you should be sleeping, being a night shift nurse requires a strong dose of willpower.
Sticking to your schedule and resisting the impulse to indulge in junk food or other unhealthy practices will help you continue to excel as a night shift nurse.
9. Take a class
Did you know there are online classes that can help show you how to adjust to night shift nursing?
For instance, the CDC has excellent online courses that are designed to educate nurses and their managers about the health and safety risks associated with shift work, long work hours and related workplace fatigue issues. And RN.com has a course to help nurses deal with stress.
Many employers and travel nurse agencies cover the cost of continuing education, and today’s online courses are designed to fit around your shifts.
10. Build a community
Whether it’s in-person with your fellow night shift nurses, or through online nursing support groups, building meaningful relationships is an important part of staying healthy—regardless of the shift you work.
You can support each other in your efforts to follow healthier habits, and help each other deal with stressful situations that only nurses can truly understand.
TALK to an Onward Healthcare recruiter about your shift and location options as a travel nurse.
Or APPLY ONLINE today to get started!