Night shift nurses are the unsung heroes of healthcare. While everyone else is sleeping, these nurses watch over patients and ensure that they get everything they need. Unfortunately, they usually don’t get the recognition they deserve and often have to make huge changes in their lives in order to accommodate this challenging work schedule.

Nurses on the night shift are often chronically tired and very few people actively request this kind of work schedule. From a leadership standpoint, it can be very difficult to staff the night shift, but it’s very important for someone to be monitoring the patients 24/7. 

If you’re starting the night shift, whether by choice or not, realize that your sacrifices could mean the difference between life and death. Even though it might seem like thankless work sometimes, you’ll be making a huge difference in the lives of those you care for. Here are 5 night shift survival tips that might make the transition a little easier. 

Make Training Your Body to a New Sleep Schedule Priority 

To care for patients, reduce errors, and increase safety, nurses need their sleep. When you’re on the night shift, it can be tempting to just take cat naps here and there, but that won’t do you any favors. You need to get a full “night” of sleep before your shifts for the well-being of you and your patients. 

Start training your body to adjust to your new schedule. It’s important to keep a consistent schedule, even on your days off. If you never get the deep sleep your body needs, it will negatively impact every area of your life, including your mood and health.

Be Safe on the Road

You might think you’re safe to drive home after your shift, but it’s important to know how sleep deprivation and exhaustion could affect your safety on the road. In fact, the Institute of Medicine reports that sleepy drivers are responsible for around 20% of serious car crash injuries

Be honest with yourself before you head home. Are you too tired to drive? Do you need to carpool or take public transit? If you do find yourself getting too sleepy on your drive home, the safest option is always to pull over and rest for a bit. 

Don’t Rely on Caffeine and Sleeping Pills

It can be really difficult to adjust to the night shift when the world around you is working 9-5. Still, it’s important that you don’t rely on caffeine and sleeping pills to get through your shifts.

Not only will you likely develop a dependency, but you’ll probably also get poorer sleep due to the disruption of your circadian rhythm and be less focused when you are at work. 

Manage Your Calories and Exercise Routine

It’s easy to reach for high-calorie foods on the night shift, and to snack frequently. If you don’t keep track of your calorie intake, you could find that the night shift causes you to gain weight. Pack healthy snacks and meals for your shift, like fresh veggies, Greek yogurt, and whole-grain bread. 

You might also find that you’re not as active once you’re on the night shift. Prioritize regular exercise and try to put some variety into your workouts. Walking or jogging, swimming, yoga, and sports are all great options. Consistently making time for movement is key!

Manage Your Stress and Seek Support When You Need It

Nursing can be an extremely stressful profession, as anyone in the field knows. On the night shift, stress levels can get out of control very easily. Before you start the night shift, it’s important to anticipate this and to create stress management methods that work for you. 

Stress is harmful to your physical and mental health and your overall well-being. If you find that you’re suffering from chronic stress, anxiety, burnout, or similar problems, it’s important to take a step back. Do you need support from a mental health professional or a support group?

Some stress can be managed with activities like exercise, meditation, and taking time to just relax. But if you’re really struggling with stress on the night shift, don’t be afraid to reach out for a little extra help. You can do it! 

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