Do you work night shift, or are you considering making a switch to nights? Night shift is not easy but when compared to the hustle and bustle of day shift and the administration, traffic, patient family members, discharges... it can start to seem appealing.
Night shifters are a special breed and a little superhuman. Too often I hear people leave nights because their bodies hate working nights or they are so tired. Newsflash! We all are tired and our bodies hate working nights too!
The thing is, night shifters have learned ways to muscle through a particularly rough 3am-5am period (the time that I struggle the most). I've worked night shift for over 12 years and it hasn't all been easy. Continue reading for some tricks of the trade to help keep you rested and primed to tackle the grueling overnight shift...
Limit Caffeine! (Or at least no Coffee after 3am!)
I admit, I love coffee... the taste, sipping it, it's like my own little warm hug in a cup. I have been guilty of breaking this rule myself because sometimes you REALLY NEED a cup of coffee to get you through the last four hours, but resist!
Choose alternatives, like herbal tea or sip on water. Try this Good Earth Sweet & Spicy orange and cinnamon herbal tea. It's so good and is caffeine free!
When you drink coffee after 3am your body will have a hard time settling down when it's actually time to go to sleep. You will by lying in bed struggling to fall asleep because the caffeine is still in your system.
No caffeine after 3!
Only Sip on Water after 5am:
Don't sabotage yourself and guzzle water just so you have to pee like a racehorse two hours into your sleep?
Try to drink the majority of your water earlier in your shift and just sip as the shift winds down. If you do have to get up mid-sleep and pee.. do yourself a favor and just open your eyes wide enough to get to the bathroom and back safely.
Don't talk to anyone, don't check your phone, just stumble to the bathroom, do your business, and right back to bed (as if it never happened).
Eat Breakfast... or Dinner (Whatever you'd call it!)
I don't know how many times I've woken up mid morning looking for food, I stumble into the kitchen and grab some chips and the next thing I know I'm passed out in my bed with my hand still stuck in the bag.
Stop at the café on the walk out of work and grab a protein rich breakfast and you will go to bed full and happy.
When I eat at work it gives my body time to digest so I can go right to bed when I get home without having heartburn or indigestion. Added bonus, if I fill up on a healthy breakfast I'm more likely to stay away from those Oreos I bought for the kids. Will power is non-existent when I'm sleep deprived.
Eating a meal before I actually turn in after working helps me to stay asleep longer.
Turn off your phone, put it on Do Not Disturb, leave it in another room... Do what you have to do to keep you from checking it or being ding'd for every text, email, or phone call.
My kids are in school and I worry I am going to miss a phone call from the school if there were a problem. I put my iphone on "Do Not Disturb" and train the kids to call me two times in a row so their call gets through to me when they really need me. (This one is a work in progress!)
Another common distraction people have are their pets. People sacrifice a decent sleep because their pet constantly wakes them up during the day... barking at the mailman, needing to go out to relieve themselves, chewing, licking, running around the house! How can anyone sleep with all the noise?
If your pet does any of these things and it wakes you up routinely, seriously consider having someone watch your pet or find a place in the house where you can sleep without all the raucous!
You have to sleep for your health and safety, you can love your pet to pieces but you have to make sure you get enough sleep to function.
Yes, Definitely hire a Babysitter!
One of the perks of working nights for parents is being able to be home during the day. However, there are so many super moms (and Dad's) out there that legitimately work a 12 hour night shift just to go home and take care of their kids!
Its an incredible sacrifice and I'm super amazed at the parents that can do this week after week. Your kids are important and juggling childcare while working is one of the hardest parts of working outside the home for parents.
I propose making yourself a priority on your sleep days. Hire a babysitter, take the kids to a trusted relative, sign them up for day care a few days a week! I know childcare can be expensive so try to get creative, can you barter with another nurse? Maybe try to share the cost of a babysitter with another working mom.
Whatever you have to do, try to give yourself a solid block of time that you can rest up so you can be able to function and be safe! I love the saying, "you can't pour from an empty cup," take care of yourself so you can take care of others... both your family and the patients!
One word: Melatonin
Melatonin promotes falling asleep faster, is not habit forming, and comes over the counter in different doses of usually, 3mg, 5mg, or 10mg.
Using melatonin to help with falling asleep has helped me through some difficult periods where night shift was a struggle. I've used Nature Made Melatonin 3mg Tablets and found them at most drug stores, grocery stores, or online of course.
Routine usage of melatonin has been linked to diagnosis of depression and anxiety. I only take melatonin when I know I have a certain amount of time I need to sleep or if I think I might be disturbed because of distractions around the house.
I wouldn't recommend taking it more than 3-4 times per week for reasons mentioned above and also, check with your doctor before starting new supplements and/or sleep aids.
Block Out the Light!
Darkness promotes natural melatonin production in your body, which is key for helping you fall asleep and stay asleep. Light blocking curtains will keep your room dark on a bright sunny day, so when everyone is outside soaking up the sun you can be in your cave basking in the darkness and sleeping.
Don't forget sleep masks like this one which are great for getting that full darkness effect and now you can purchase masks that come scented with lavendar or with bluetooth enabled speakers for noise cancellation that are amazing for even the lightest sleepers!
Experts also recommend choosing a color palate for your bedroom that's muted, dark, and calming. No bright reds or yellows if you are going for that relaxing and calm effect. Try earth tones of greens, browns, greys, and blues for a peaceful feel.
It is hard to imagine waking up after working a night shift and hitting the gym or running through a Tabata session in your living room, but research says that if you can fit in even 10-15 minutes of exercise every day you will sleep better. Try squeezing in a workout when you can!
If you're struggling with getting enough rest to make it through your shift, try some of these tricks to improve your sleep. It can take the average person a few days to adjust to sleep changes so be patient with yourself and know it might take some time to learn what works best for you.
Block your shifts together and remain on the same sleep schedule for multiple days without flipping back and forth. On the day that you finish your last shift try to get in a shorter sleep so you can fall asleep easier in the evening to return to the normal day-wake, night-sleep schedule on your days off.
Check out my blog post on Drowsy Driving Safety Tips for ideas to help you stay alert on your commute home from work if you are having difficulty staying alert on the road after your shift.
And finally, get to know your body and what keeps you from getting good rest, set yourself up for success and you will become a master at juggling shift work and sleep!
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Thanks for reading!