Whether this is your first time working the night shift, or you are re-entering the night shift workforce after some time away, the initial transition can be tough. When your body is used to a normal circadian rhythm, it can feel difficult or even impossible to get yourself used to functioning on the opposite schedule. Fear not, however, as we have compiled 5 tips to help you acclimate successfully to the night shift:
Invest in a good set of blackout curtains
Yes, they can be pricey, but investing in a quality set of light-blocking curtains will make a huge difference in the quality of sleep you can achieve during the day. The science behind this stems from the production of melatonin. Melatonin is a substance that is produced naturally by the body in the evening hours when it becomes dark outside. The body needs darkness to produce melatonin, and therefore trying to sleep when the sun is out can inhibit your body’s natural sleep process. Using blackout curtains helps to maintain darkness in your bedroom even at the sun’s brightest point of the day. They now come in several stylish options as well, if you shop around, and can also add some style to your bedroom.
Consider a sleep supplement, if you have trouble
Speaking of melatonin, it also comes in pill form. There is some research that indicates that taking a small dose of melatonin in pill form can help the body reach and sustain sleep. Other options to consider include Zzzquil or Unisom. Of course, as any nurse would know, please consult your physician before using any medications to help you sleep.
Find a quiet place to sleep
This one can be tough if you live with other people or in a busy urban area. One of the challenges many nurses find when trying to sleep during the day is dealing with noise. Try to find a quiet room in the house away from any commotion, as noise will definitely keep you awake. The blackout curtains mentioned above may help to block out a bit of the noise as well. If all else fails, consider some ear plugs or even a noise machine to help drown out any unwanted noise that could keep you awake.
Make a sleep schedule (and stick to it!)
If you are working three 12-hour shifts per week, it can be tempting to try to flip back and forth between a nocturnal and diurnal schedule. It is best to resist this temptation and implement a sleep schedule that you stick to at all times. Flipping back and forth can be very confusing for the body and cause setbacks in the quality of sleep and your ability to be awake and alert when needed.
Prepare yourself to think creatively to stay awake all night
Sleeping during the day is hard enough, but many nurses find it challenging to stay awake and on their game all night long. One idea to combat the urge to snooze is to avoid large meals during your shift, instead favoring small snacks spaced 1-2 hours apart throughout the night. Large meals tend to require extra energy for digestion and can leave you feeling sluggish, whereas small snacks will keep your blood sugar up and help you to stay alert. Another tip is to keep moving. The hours between 3am-6am can be absolutely brutal, as there is often not much activity and most patients are (hopefully) sleeping. It is tempting to sit around and sip coffee, but the best option for this slow hours is actually to get up and move around. Make laps around the unit. Talk a walk to another department for a change of scenery. Keeping your blood flowing and muscles in use will help keep your body energized for the home stretch of your shift. Lastly, while it may be tempting to sip caffeinated drinks all night long, it is actually best to have them toward the start of your shift and avoid them afterward. Sipping caffeine throughout the night is likely to interfere with your ability to sleep once your shift is over!
While tough, it is certainly possible to successfully adjust from day shift to night shift, and relatively quickly. The above tips are a good place to start making that adjustment, but don’t be afraid to seek out fellow veteran night shift workers as well, as they may have some other sound advice to offer in regards to making the new shift a successful one.