How to Thrive While Working the Night Shift

In many health care settings, having staff to work the night shift is crucial to maintaining quality patient care. While working the night shift may not appeal to all nurses, some thoroughly enjoy the setting. According to NavigateNursing, a program of NursingWorld, 30 percent of nurses work the night shift and choose it for greater personal flexibility or higher pay compared to daytime jobs. In addition, nurses often cite calmer floors, increased patient-oriented care, and the opportunity to practice more autonomously as reasons for choosing to work overnight.

However, many nurses will tell you that working the night shift has its drawbacks. Some challenges include less free time with family and friends, a disrupted sleeping schedule, and difficulty planning meals. While adjusting to a nighttime schedule might be difficult, there are strategies nurses can use to successfully balance working the night shift and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Get Adequate Sleep

Working a night shift counteracts the body’s natural circadian rhythm, which regulates the release of hormones that control mood, alertness, body temperature, and other factors contributing to wellness. It is important for nurses who work the night shift to be consistent in their sleeping habits. Switching from sleeping at night to sleeping during the day makes it difficult for nurses to get the sleep required. Nurses who work the night shift should try to maintain the pattern of sleeping during the day and being awake at night, even on their days off.

Most nurses who work the night shift get home in the early hours of the morning after a 12-hour shift and go right to bed. After a few hours of sleep, these nurses may wake up and try to spend time with family and friends, or get some errands done. While sleeping after work is encouraged, experts say that nurses should also try to nap before they go back to work. Even an hour of sleep right before a night shift improves awareness and alertness throughout the night.

Maintain a Balanced Diet

What nurses put into their bodies before, during, and after a night shift can have a positive or negative effect on their ability to remain alert and focused during work. Eating healthy meals that provide long-term energy — such as nuts, fruits, meats, and vegetables — prevent sleepiness and the “crash-and-burn” effect caused by junk food. Staying hydrated by drinking water can also help nurses maintain energy throughout the night shift. While caffeinated drinks may help fight off the urge to sleep, it is important for nurses to avoid caffeinated products toward the end of their shift, as that will disrupt their ability to sleep after work.

Stay Active

Studies have shown that being active and exercising during the night is extremely beneficial to nurses. Alertness, mood, and ability to fall asleep are all positively affected by relatively short amounts of exercise and activity. Spending five to 10 minutes walking outside, climbing stairs, or even doing jumping jacks in the break room are all quick, easy ways for nurses to be active, boost their metabolism, and stay alert.

Staying active off-shift is also important to a nurse’s overall well-being. Oftentimes, gyms and recreation centers offer early morning and early afternoon exercise and yoga classes that are perfect for nurses looking to get a workout in before or after their night shift.

Additional Opportunities to Thrive

While there are unique challenges associated with working the night shift, nurses who work overnight can continue to enjoy their hobbies, spend time with family and friends, work toward their educational goals, and advance their careers.

Night shift nurses have greater opportunity to attend health care conferences and networking events that are often held during the day, without having to miss out on working their shift. For those seeking a higher nursing degree, such as an MSN, night shift nurses have the opportunity to study and attend class sessions during the day. Online Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) programs such as Nursing@Simmons offer flexible learning formats that enable nurses to complete weekly coursework on their schedule — allowing more freedom and flexibility for day-to-day tasks.

Though the night shift may not appeal to all nurses, those who work it can maintain a well-balanced, healthy lifestyle, while seizing career opportunities that may be less available to nurses who work the day shift.

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