Adapting To Overnight Shifts: Tips, Tricks & More

tired nurse in medical scrubs

Overnight shifts are hard to get used to, especially if you’ve worked during the traditional diurnal schedule for most of your professional life. And if you think being a night owl is going to make it easier to get used to an overnight shift, well that’s not going to happen. Staying up at night for work is completely different.

However, lots of people who wear nursing scrubs work overnight shifts. Nurses are usually the ones who fall into graveyard schedules, but some doctors and practitioners are likewise being called in emergency room from time to time, even in the middle of the night!

Those who have worked closely with health clinics says that this is nothing out of the ordinary and certainly not impossible to get used to. But instead of going unprepared, go through these excellent tips and you’ll know what to expect and how to overcome related issues.

1. Family Life Will be Affected
There’s no getting around the fact that your new work schedule will have an impact on your family. Your children will see less of you on certain days, or even every day. This is not the best thing in the world, but you can remedy this to some extent by planning breakfasts or dinners when possible, so you still get some quality family time.

2. A Trial Run is a Good Idea
To see how your night schedule will work in practice, give yourself a head start and try making the change a day or two before the new shift starts. So if your new schedule starts on Monday, try emulating how you’d live through it at home, on Saturday. Do the things you’d normally do before heading to work, to see how long it will take you to get up and ready.

If you live with family you’ll quickly realize this isn’t exactly a simple process. You might miss out on catching up with them, but that’s just the reality of what’s to come. This is exactly why it’s a good idea to try the schedule before you actually start it. You’ll know beforehand how to make adjustments so that your family life isn’t too badly affected by it. Sacrifices will have to be made either way, but a reasonable compromise can definitely be achieved.

3. Keep Track of Your Sleep
One of the biggest challenges you’ll face in your new overnight schedule is sleep. Getting used to sleeping while the world is up and running, and working while the world is sleeping certainly seems like quite an unnerving prospect. However, you should absolutely not compromise on getting some quality sleep, even if everyone around you is wide awake.

Sleeping during the day might require you to go out of your way to make sure your room is dark, and quiet. Let your family know when you’ll be sleeping so noise levels throughout the home are kept to a minimum, or at least bearable levels. Sunlight is great at waking us up, but that’s unlikely to be the case for you. If you have trouble waking up in a dark room, consider investing in an alarm that will light up the room when it’s time for you to wake up. When you come back home after work, do the things you’d normally do in the evenings. Relax, and don’t get trapped doing chores just because it’s daytime.

4. Control Light Exposure
A lot of events in our body are triggered by exposure to light. For example, as the sun goes down in the evening our body releases melatonin which promotes drowsiness, while morning light suppresses melatonin and increases cortisol to help you feel awake.

Artificial light affects your body much the same way as natural light does, so you have to be careful how you use it throughout the day. During night shift, you can expose yourself to bright light to stimulate the body and make you more awake. And when you get home after work, limit exposure to bright light. You can even go a step further and wear sunglasses on your way home to simulate reduced light conditions. Research has shown this to contribute towards better sleep.

Speaking of exposure to light, you might want to put down that smartphone while in bed. Smartphone displays emit blue light that has been suggested to mess with our circadian rhythms. This will send signals to your brain, telling it that it’s daytime, leading to poor sleep quality.

5. Control Your Caffeine Intake
Caffeine is great, and a reasonable dose of coffee can help you remain alert throughout a shift. However, if you automatically turn to coffee whenever you feel a bit lethargic, that will have repercussions such as gastrointestinal upsets and muscle shakes.

Some people also have a tendency to drink one big cup of coffee to get their fix, while research actually suggests that small doses throughout the day keep you more alert. Oh, and don’t drink coffee within 6 hours of bedtime to make sure it doesn’t interfere with your sleep.

6. Be Clever About What You Eat
Night shift workers are prone to experience metabolic syndrome and an increased risk of becoming overweight or obese due to poor eating habits. That’s understandable, as we always go for the highest-calorie snack when we’re in a bit of a hurry and want to feel full.

That’s not advisable, and it really does pay to plan your meals ahead. Try to eat daily but at a moderately fixed schedule. Don’t consume one big meal, rather eat light meals or healthy snacks frequently. Avoid unhealthy food from work cafeteria or vending machines and try to bring your own food.

Vegetables and fruit make for healthy snacks as they’re rich in fibers which are slow to digest, making you feel ‘fuller’ for a longer period of time.

Final Thoughts
Working an overnight shift can be challenging, but that opens up lots of room for improvement. Sure you might have less time socially, but you’ll learn to cherish your moments more. And remember, you work to live and not the other way round. So if it all gets too overwhelming, you know what to do!

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