Making the Switch: 4 Tips for Adjusting to the Night Shift

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Vocational Nursing graduate
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Dental Assistant Graduate
Night shift Nurse drinking coffee

Night shift nurses ensure safety and continuity of care at clinics, residences and hospitals. However, if you are one of the many nurses who care for patients overnight, it may take you some time to adjust to your new schedule. Before you double-check your bag for your stethoscope and other diagnostic tools to head out the door, keep the following tips in mind. They will help you care for yourself while you tend to your patients.

4 Tips for Adjusting to the Night Shift

1. Prepare Ahead of Time

According to the Sleep Foundation (1), night shift workers should adhere to a strict sleep schedule. You can help your body adjust by starting your new schedule ahead of time. If you begin the first day of your shift, you may experience fatigue or grogginess.

Experiment with different strategies. Some nurses prefer to stay up for a couple of hours after they get home and then go to bed. Other professionals like a “split schedule” that starts with a short nap. When the nap ends, the nurse stays awake until they begin a long stretch of sleep closer to their shift. Whatever you decide, let your family or housemates know about your new sleep hours so they will not disturb you when you are trying to rest.

To help you get the most sleep before your shift, prepare your bag and uniform before you go to bed. Choose your scrubs (2) , make your lunch and fill your reusable water bottle with ice water. Ensure your badge and wallet are in sight so you do not forget them when you head out the door. Try to handle all phone calls and daytime matters before you go to sleep. Frequent disruptions in rest can harm your health. According to the Cleveland Clinic, some of the most common short-term problems associated with lack of sleep (3) include impaired memory, lack of alertness and even a greater chance of car accidents.

2. Create the Ideal Sleep Environment

The best environment for sleep (4) is cool, comfortable and quiet. There are a few ways you can create this ambiance in your bedroom. First, keep it free of sunlight and heat by installing room darkening shades or blinds. Alternatively, you can wear a sleep mask.

Rest deeper and longer with plush bedding and a supportive mattress. Cooling sheets can also help you to sleep more peacefully. Turn your phone off—or at least toggle it to where the phone only rings for emergencies.

Avoid too many blue light electronics  (5) in your room. These include televisions and desktop computers, which may make it more difficult to get restful sleep. When it is time to rest, lower the AC and turn on a white noise machine or fan. Background noise will help to tune out anyone awake in your home. If your family is active during the day, leave a note or placard on the door that reminds them you are sleeping. You can also leave a sign on the front door to avoid unwanted doorbell rings and knocks.

3. Use Caffeine Wisely

It is tempting to drink caffeine on any nursing shift, but it is especially popular overnight. Coffee, energy drinks and sodas can give providers the extra boost to get through an intense couple of hours. However, health professionals know better than anyone how caffeine can affect the body long-term. While you may feel more alert and energetic for a little while, the effects of too much caffeine (6) can lead to headaches, a fast heartbeat or irritability. You may even develop insomnia, which can make it more difficult for you to sleep during the day.

Even if you enjoy lattes or green tea, remember to use caffeine in moderation. Most adults are okay to enjoy a few cups per day but be sure to speak with a doctor if you have questions. Be on the lookout for symptoms like an upset stomach, jitters or nausea, which are common signs of overconsumption.

Instead of using caffeine, there are other ways to feel more energized and get through the night shift. Some healthier alternatives to caffeine (7) include drinking more water or eating antioxidant-rich foods like berries and nuts. If you feel fatigued or tired for more than a few weeks, ask your healthcare provider to evaluate your B-vitamins. Increasing your intake of vitamin B complex can help your body to get more energy from the food you eat. Taking B vitamins may also help you to avoid chronic illness.

4. Be Patient with Yourself

It takes every nurse some time to adjust to the night shift. If you feel groggy or irritable during the first few weeks, be patient. Adhering to a strict sleep schedule and taking care of your basic needs will help you to get past the discomfort and acclimate your body.

Eat healthfully, drink water and ensure you are getting enough sleep for your age (8). Combining the right number of hours of sleep with the ideal schedule will make you feel more rested and help you to stay asleep during the day. If you have trouble sleeping for more than a few weeks or experience insomnia, make an appointment with a physician to discuss your options.

You should also let a doctor know if you experience symptoms of sleep deprivation, such as mood changes and trouble focusing at work. They can help you to adjust your schedule to accommodate the night shift while assisting you with symptoms of burnout or depression. Remember: Your optimal health is essential to best caring for your patients. Addressing concerns about sleep or mood promptly will help you to ensure you can perform your best.

Making the Most of the Night Shift

The night shift can make for a challenging adjustment but remember that you are not alone. Most nursing professionals thrive in a short amount of time. The positivity and perseverance that makes you an excellent healthcare provider will also help you to get over the hurdles of switching your shift. Know that no matter what, you are a critical part of your patients' care.

  1. "Tips for Shift Workers- The Sleep Foundation",
  2. "allheart- womens scrubs",
  3. "Here's What Happens When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep (And How Much You Really Need a Night)- Cleveland Clinic",
  4. "What's the Ideal Sleep Environment?- Everyday Health",
  5. "Blue light has a dark side- Harvard",
  6. "Caffeine: How much is too much?- Mayo Clinic",
  7. "These 11 Caffeine Alternatives Will Give You A Natural Energy Boost- MGB Food",
  8. "How Much Sleep You Need, According to Experts- Health",