Typically there isn’t a lot that happens on a nightshift. Unless you’re in an ICU environment, pediatrics, or perhaps mother-baby, your patients don’t require much attention, and there are few, if any visitors or concerned phone calls to deal with. After quiet rounds, charting and meds, you’re left with time to fill. As your shift drones on, you very well might feel yourself dozing off.
In addition to being, well, somewhat boring, nightshifts can impact you physically and emotionally, Playing with the rules of your own circadian rhythm can have side effects that are not so easy to handle. Your body responds to cues of light and darkness, instinctually “shutting down” and craving sleep between the hours of midnight and 6:00 am. When you interrupt this natural occurrence, you can invite sickness, fatigue, and even hormonal imbalances. For women nurses, working regular nightshifts will throw off your monthly cycles by as much as 14 days. Some nurses experience nausea and vertigo when on nights.
All Night Long
So, how can you stay not only awake, but vibrant, during your nightshift? How can you be on your game, so the hours go by nearly as rapidly as they do during your day shift? Here are a few tips and tricks employed by those nightshift veterans of the field, in an effort to stay awake and moving forward, even as the clock slows.
Stay Hydrated-Water does far more than caffeine to wake you up and perk you up for the long night ahead. Keep hydrated and it will keep you going-literally-all night long. The up and down of going back and forth to the bathroom will help keep you active, and the hydration will quench tired tissue, making you feel much more awake. Caffeine is unpredictable and can cause jitters, stomach distress, and mood swings. Stick with water.
Eat Healthy and Light Meals and Snacks-Sure a burger and fries, or pizza and wings, may sound great around midnight, but all you’ll succeed in doing is making your body feel sluggish. Instead, try small snacks throughout your shift that are healthy and wont weigh you down. Greek yogurt with honey, some fruit, a salad, some nuts and cheese, or lettuce wrap with turkey, chicken or plant-based ingredients, will keep you fueled without making you feel groggy. Save the pizza for your night off.
Bond with Coworkers-Bonding with your coworkers isn’t just a great way to get to know and appreciate a new friend or two. Building a relationship on common ground is healthy and beneficial to you in many ways. You can blow off steam, cry, and laugh over situations you both understand. Try playing a trivia game. There are plenty of phone apps that you can use to quiz each other. Trade stories and anecdotes about family, nursing school, or whatever you find interesting. Not only will it help the time pass, but you may make a lifelong friend in the process.
Spend Time with Fretful, or Wakeful Patients-Your first duty, as a nurse, is to your patients. Frequently those in a care facility stress about their situation, maybe they’re scheduled for surgery, recovering from a traumatic accident, or are simply lonely and missing someone. Helping your patient through the night by sharing time together can benefit both of you. Hearing your patients fears and concerns and learning ways to calm them helps you become a better nurse-and keeps you awake!
Stay Active During Your Break-Unless you’ve had a particularly busy nightshift, don’t take your breaks sitting down. Move around. Take the stairs to the cafeteria, or walk a path around the inside of the facility to get your blood pumping. Go to the break room and bust a move. Pop in your headphones and turn up the music while you dance your break away. It’s a guaranteed spirit lifter and will help prop you up for the rest of your shift.
Now That You’ve Survived Nightshift
Of course, making sure you get plenty of sleep when you’re at home can help keep you well-rested. Invest in a good bed, weighted sleep mask, room darkening shades, and keep your bedroom cool. Make no plans or commitments when you begin a nightshift. It’s easy for friends to rely on you because you’re “home” during the day. Learn to say no, no matter what.
When your nightshift has ended, make sure you get home safely. There is a higher rate of auto accidents for individuals who’ve just completed a nightshift. So, take care to avoid driving home alone, if possible. Carpool with other nightshift nurses, or take public transportation, if possible. Turn up the music, and wear sunglasses that help keep daybreak to a dull roar. Stay defensive and on guard as you make your way back home. Remember, others on the road are just waking up and may be a bit bleary-eyed.