I was so nervous for my first night shifts. I had heard horror stories from other nurses about getting sick on shift because of sleep deprivation, never being able to sleep during the day, staying awake for 3 days in a row for your three shifts... Keep in mind that I have so far been working as a care aid on long term care (because I am endlessly in nursing school - one more year, one more year.... but I digress). So things tend to be less hectic on night shift than you would find on a busy medicine ward, labour and delivery (babies don't stop their arrival just because it is the middle of the night), or somewhere like the emergency department. However, I have found that I actually prefer my night shifts to my day shifts. I am certainly no expert on this topic, but these are some of the tricks that I find get me through night shifts:
1. It's all about the transition. If you have a bad transition from day-time living to nocturnal living, then you're in trouble. I start transitioning the night before my up-coming night shift. For instance, if I am going to start a night shift at 7pm Saturday night, then I will start my transition on Friday night. I stay up as late as I can on Friday night (usually I only make it until 3am) by trying to stay productive. I usually make all my lunches and organize them for the coming shifts. Sometimes I will even bake. Then I go to bed and sleep in until 10am (Saturday morning). I get up for a few hours, do some light house work and try to stay relaxed. By 1pm I try to get back to bed and sleep for another 4 hours or so. I usually find I start my night shifts better rested than I would start a series of day shifts.
2. Don't eat to stay awake. A ton of nurses eat to stay awake - probably every night shift worker in the world has done it once in their lives. But it can be really detrimental to your health - and when you are already leaning towards sleep deprived, your body needs all the help it can get. So if you must snack, go for healthy things like celery with cheese, grapes, an apple, carrots...etc.
3. Pack lighter meals. Nothing will make me feel crappier at 1 or 2am than a heavy meal. I try to pack things like a salad with some chicken breast pieces, or a healthy homemade soup (try this beef vegetable one). It should be something with a light protein to keep you full (and keep snack cravings at bay) but nothing heavy enough to feel like there's a brick sitting in your stomach.
4. Try to limit your caffeine intake. Lots of night shift workers swear by coffee and energy drinks, but the caffeine high (and inevitable drop) that these lead to can cause some serious hangover type feelings. And they can prevent you from being able to sleep when your shift is done. If you can, try stick to a caffeinated beverage that isn't quite as intense. I like to drink mint green tea (it is also great for your immune system and metabolism) or chai tea, which are both caffeinated but not nearly as much as coffee or an energy drink.
5. When you are feeling like you're going to fall asleep, stretch. We probably all should be doing this anyway when we are at work to prevent injuries - but what busy nurse or care aid actually has time (especially on day shift). But during those lulls on the night shift (when you are also apt to fall asleep) is a great time to do a quick stretch to both refresh and wake you up.
6. Try to still eat a meal with your significant other, even if it is just breakfast. It is so important to spend time together, and that can become difficult when you are gone when they are home. On night shift, breakfast basically becomes supper so take that time to catch up with your spouse.
Are you a night shift worker? What are some of your best tricks for surviving a night shift?
Have a lovely day! Or night!