Healthcare workers know that their job never ends. Patients don’t stop coming to the hospital because it is a weekend, holiday or late at night. Therefore, we provide 24-hour coverage and support in order to take care of our patients – because that is what we do! We are super-humans who save lives! But at what cost? At some point in your career you have likely had to take on night shift and that means that you have to fight your own circadian rhythm in order to stay awake! How messed up is that?!? This is my personal survival guide (with help from my nurses) for surviving the vampire shifts! I will start this list of with more serious topics to take note of. Then, in true night shift fashion, we will take a 90 degree turn and jump off the deep end with some fun suggestions from those who have made a few life mistakes previously!
Sleep, Sleep and More Sleep
I can NOT stress this enough – get sleep! According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), night shift workers should attempt to keep the same sleep/wake schedule. Now, lets be honest. This is not typically possible with family, kids and other ‘life’ events. So, do what you can to reach the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep a day. This may mean that you purchase darkening shakes, a sleep mask, or even wear ear plugs.
Personally, I have found a free meditation app on my phone and this really helps me to shut off my brain from the overdrive it still feels after a shift! I am also lucky enough to have the ability to take a power nap (on some lucky nights) and take full advantage of this!
Night shift is not the time to eat whatever you want – although we like to think so! The National Sleep Foundation shares that shift workers tend to experience more weight gain vs. day shift only. What does that mean for you? Well, put down that Hershey’s bar and we can make some better decisions together. Any processed sugars should be avoided in order to avoid the crash that inevitably comes after (sorry doughnut lovers).
Snacks are a great way to get through the night and when chosen wisely can give you a night steady energy boost. Dried fruits, nuts and veggies are all healthy happy options to help you make it through the 3am slump.
On a personal note – MEAL PREP!! This has been an absolute lifesaver for me over the last few years! It doesn’t have to be difficult or stressful. Honestly, on my day off I air fry a bunch of protein, roast up some veggies and have a nice carb (quinoa is awesome) to round it out. This gives me more time to sleep, I save money (sorry Uber Eats), and helps me to make better decisions while at work. Also, on those busy nights it keeps you in the unit and able to eat as you go!
This can be a lifesaver! Feel yourself dosing off? Take a walk, dance to a song quick in the break room, do a few jumping jacks. Getting up and keeping yourself active intentionally helps to fight off that 3am ‘wall’. The NSF agrees.
I would encourage all night shift workers to take this a step further and make sure that we are participating in exercise outside of the workplace. Trust me, I know that it is hard. The last think most of us want to do after a long grueling night is to go exercise. But remember from above – that whole ‘we tend to gain more weight’ thing? Exercise is crucial to our overall health and wellness! So, go join an Orange Theory, gym, or just make sure to intentionally do some form of exercise at home.
This is a personal favorite – I am a coffee snob! If it were up to me, I would drink coffee all day, every day! However, apparently water is also important (pish posh). So, make sure to alternate your preferred form of caffeine with some water as to much caffeine has its own issues. I would also suggest laying off the caffeine during that last few hours of your shift so you can get some sleep.
Pay Attention to Your Body
Overall, just be mindful of your body and what it is telling you! The National Sleep Foundation reports shift workers face a higher risk of insomnia, daytime sleepiness, high blood pressure, diabetes, menstrual irregularities, colds, and weight gain vs. their day shift counterparts. Be aware and take care of yourself!
Family and Social Balance
On our rare and precious days off we often try to fit in doctors’ appointments, kids’ events, catching up with friends, and other obligations that we are unable to attend to while sleeping during the daylight hours. It is a choice that some of us have made in order to have a better life for our kids – we get to be there when they are home sick, set an early alarm to go to a school event or take the kids to the doctor. All of that comes at a price. When I’m on a work streak I only see my husband in passing. We, quite literally, exchange kids and say good bye. Night shift work can also lead to social isolation and a feeling of ‘missing out’. This is especially true when your social circle has never worked nights and doesn’t understand the demand on your body and mind. What do you do? Be intentional. On those days off – set up a special night with your significant other to re-connect and touch base after a long week of work. Set up a fun event with friends to see what is going on, start a messenger group with your friends so everyone can stay in touch. My personal favorite is a bedtime call from my kids so I can say goodnight and they still feel connected.Now….. some practical ideas that were generated during night shift. Hold on tight because here we go!
Stay off Amazon, Craigslist…. Really just don’t shop!
If you feel the need to purchase something at 3am – DON’T!! You do not suddenly need that bike off Amazon or that cool light up foot massager from Groupon. It is a BAD IDEA!! Us night shifters are notorious for making poor purchasing decisions in the middle of what I like to call ‘crazy time’. This is that magic time between 2am to 6am when all logic leaves and bad ideas seem good. Tell you what, if the purchase still seems like a good idea after a good day’s rest then go ahead. Otherwise, just don’t!
Don’t Swipe Right at 3AM
This suggestion comes from some of my single colleagues. While on break and scrolling through your Tinder, Bumble, or whatever you use… do not just start swiping. As I have been told, there have been many a poor swipe made at 3am. Good Luck!
The Bermuda Triangle
The recovery day. That first day off after working a string of nights. Do I sleep? Do I try to stay awake? Do I just relax and see what happens? This is the Bermuda triangle of days for night shifters. We simply float through this day in a haze of exhaustion and confusion. I am well known for forgetting this day happened and being totally confused on what day it actually is for the next 48 hours. I have no advice here. Y’all are just gonna have to fend for yourselves and try to survive. Good Luck and may the odds be ever in your favor.
Don’t tell people you are a Superhero
Those who work days and those who work nights all have one purpose. We care for our patients and given them the best care possible. But, lets just be real for a minute. We all know who the actual superheroes are. So, to all you night shift workers – just keep those capes tucked in tight and keep being awesome!