Nursing is going to be tough no matter what. Twelve-hour shifts. Limitless time on your feet. Taking care of people during some of the most difficult moments of their lives. Doing it all at night only makes things harder.

The plights of the night nurse are many. However, with the right strategy, you can make your shifts more tolerable. In this article, we highlight tips for nurses struggling with the night shift.

Be Careful with the Caffeine

Naturally, your impulse may be to load up on as much coffee as possible. As a night shift nurse you will, of course, need to do whatever it takes to keep yourself alert and ready for whatever will be coming your way. However, when possible, it’s best to limit your caffeine intake to reasonable quantities.

Not only will high levels of caffeine have negative long impacts on your health, but it may also make it very difficult to fall asleep when your shift is finally over. It takes up to ten hours for caffeine to completely leave your system. Most people stop experiencing its effects of it after six hours. However, this number can increase substantially depending on the quantity.

Go for moderation. It’s better in the long run.

Try to Form Relationships with Your Coworkers

Working the night shift is the sort of experience that can create bonds among employees. It’s hard work. It’s also boring work. Get to know the people on your floor. Not only will this help pass the time, but it’s also just a good professional move.

Having friends on your floor makes it easier to get shifts covered. It also makes you more effective at your job. The more communicative and familiar you are with the people around you, the easier it will be to offer high-quality care to your patients.

Be Strategic About Your Sleep Schedule

One of the worst things about being a night nurse is that you lose control over your sleep schedule. Most night nurses work three to four shifts a week. On those days, they will be sleeping for much of the time that their friends and family are awake. This is a difficult dynamic, to be sure.

The temptation may be to forgo sleep on some days when doing so would grant you access to a social experience you would otherwise miss. Resist the urge.

On working days, you need to go into the hospital clearheaded, and well rested. Not only do your patients depend on this, but you do as well. Think about how you will feel when 4 AM rolls in and you’re on you’re going on twenty-plus hours without sleep.

It is possible, even advisable, to assume a more typical sleeping schedule on days you aren’t working. Of course, even this is a challenge. Night nurses who wish to maintain their family’s sleep schedule on off days usually have to forgo rest to do it. For example, if your last shift for the week is on a Friday, you may need to stay awake on Saturday during the time you would usually catch up on sleep.

Sacrifices of this kind are physically demanding, and sometimes difficult to make. Ultimately, you will have to decide for yourself what sort of sleep-related sacrifices you are willing, or for that matter, capable of making.

However, it is important to maintain a healthy work-life balance. If you never see your friends and family because of your job, your days as a night nurse are probably numbered. It’s a tough balance to strike, but find the formula that fits you and it should make your shifts much more tolerable.

Eat Right

When you are exhausted, stressed out, and without adequate free time to devote to serious cooking, it can be tempting, and indeed very easy to reach for highly processed, prepackaged snacks and meals. Convenient though these products may be, they won’t do you any good in the long run.

Working twelve-hour shifts on your feet at a time when most of the world is sleeping can be extremely physically demanding. Eating healthy meals and snacks will give your body the fuel it needs to survive, and even thrive in these conditions.

Be Mindful of Alcohol Consumption

Having the occasional drink with friends or family members can be a fun, even therapeutic way to relax at the end of a long work week. However, it is important to be mindful of what effects alcohol has on the body.

Alcohol and other recreational drugs are depressants. Not only can they have a negative impact on your mood in the long run, but they also lead to dehydration and can have negative impacts on your sleeping habits.

While many are under the impression that alcohol makes it easier to sleep, the reverse is actually true. There is a strong correlation between alcohol consumption and insomnia. Even when people under the influence of alcohol do sleep, the rest is not nearly as restorative. Drinking can reduce the effects of REM, which means that the benefits of a full night of sleep will not be as pronounced as they would have been if you’d abstained from alcohol.

You should have fun, of course. However, as a night nurse, you know better than anyone how important sleep is. Don’t jeopardize your rest for a drink.

Be Mindful of Your Mental Health

Finally, it’s important for nurses in every stage of the profession to monitor their mental health closely. Burnout in the medical profession has been a topic of intense discussion over the last several years, largely brought to the public sphere through the pandemic.

Of course, stress and anxiety in nursing go back well before Covid-19. If you feel mental distress, don’t ignore it. Speak with a supervisor to see what sort of resources your hospital has for employees dealing with stress. They may be able to connect you with resources, or even adjust your schedule to make it more tolerable. Remember, no job, no matter how important, is worth sacrificing your health over.

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Sarah Daren has been a consultant for startups in multiple industries including health and wellness, wearable technology, nursing, and education. She implements her wellness and education knowledge into every aspect of her life, including her position as a yoga instructor and raising her two children. When she's not watching the New York Yankees play, Sarah enjoys practising yoga and reading a good book on the beach.

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