Even if you’ve worked the night shift for years, it can be hard to get the sleep you need. Today, though, there are lots of healthcare workers new to the job that are placed on the evening shifts. If you’re not used to this lifestyle, you can quickly burn out. This is especially true if you’re filling in temporarily—we know the night shift can be brutal. Here’s what some veterans of the night shift in hospitals tell us you need to do to prioritize sleep and stay healthy.
Get a Routine
Don’t try to split shifts. There’s nothing harder on your body than shifting between day and evening shifts. Instead, train your body into a routine by clustering your shifts together. Instead of forcing your body to adapt to constantly shifting sleep patterns, go for routine. Stick to that sleep pattern even on your days off, too.
One study tracked nurses who failed to systematize their shifts and instead rotated their hours from day to night. The data showed lower job satisfaction, less (and worse) sleep, and higher fatigue. The study even suggested these workers were at risk for cardiovascular and psychological illness.
Instead, get into a routine. Try to develop a strategy for time management that allows you to do the same things you’d accomplish if you worked the day shift. Set time for exercising and household chores. Cook good meals and watch your favorite shows. Talk with your family about this routine and how they can help. Put your schedule up publicly and teach your kids about when you’re sleeping and when you’re awake. We know this is hard, but a routine can help.
Establish Sleep Hygiene
You’ve heard the remedies for insomnia, but we’re suggesting that you establish a sleep schedule with a routine that tells your body every day that it’s time to rest. Invest in some great blackout curtains in your bedroom and maybe a white noise app on your cell. Your sleep area should be private, quiet, and dark. Do not use electronic devices before trying to sleep. Consider wearing an eye mask and ear plus I that helps you get more sleep. Try a warm bath and milk (not alcohol) to wind down, or perhaps some gentle yoga stretches.
Make sleep a priority, just like paying the bills, staying hydrated, or any other life or physical requirement. It’s the only way to keep your body and mind healthy for the rigors of the night shift. If you’re drinking caffeine during the night shift, consider stopping it at a certain point well before the end of your shift. Otherwise, you might have trouble coming down from all that caffeine buzz.
Meal planning is a kind of tangent to sleep hygiene. Before you start your long stretch of night shifts, prep your meals, including snacks, well ahead of time. Avoid processed foods. Before you go to sleep, as you’re winding down, go ahead and prep your food for that evening. You can even set up your coffee pot for when you wake up and layout your scrubs.
If you’re not happy with the shifts you’re getting at the hospital, check out our job board. We have many jobs to choose from, whether you’re a night owl or a day person. Stay healthy and safe and make wise decisions to take better care of yourself.
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