Nursing is not a 9-to-5 career. Patients need round-the-clock nursing care, including during weekends and on holidays. Even if you opt for traditional hours, there may be times you will need to work a night shift.
Working nights has its benefits — from a bump in pay to more downtime — but it can also lead to fatigue, anxiety, depression, and ultimately, a lower quality of patient care for nurses who lack survival strategies.
There are many techniques that can make it easier to survive working nights and reap the rewards associated with this shift.
Benefits of Working the Night Shift
There are a number of reasons, personally and professionally, why working nights is an attractive option.
The United States Department of Labor may not have laws mandating higher pay for working the night shift, but that does not stop employers from offering financial incentives. According to Consumerist, nursing is an industry that pays its employees more to work nights. Even a 5 percent increase can make working the night shift attractive.
More focus on patient care
You have more quality time with patients because there is less traffic at nights, per Keep It Real, RN. There are fewer, if any, visitors or employees from other departments to deal with.
Nights tend to be less chaotic, which Jobs.Net says many nurses use to their advantage. You may find extra time to read nursing journals, walk the floors to exercise, or study for school.
A more relaxed working environment
Since management does not work nights, the work environment tends to be more laid back, according to Keep it Real, RN.
More flexibility for other obligations
Working night shifts allows you to run errands during the day. Because most people work days, you’ll have fewer people to deal with while you’re handling your personal business.
6 Techniques to Help You Survive the Night Shift
Working nights interferes with the circadian rhythm and affects the secretion of many hormones, which can impact your sleep schedule, reports U.S. News & World Report. It can affect your ability to focus and may increase your risk of developing health issues like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, anxiety and depression. There are, however, certain techniques to try that could help alleviate these risks.
1. Adjust your melatonin levels
Night shift workers tend to produce less melatonin, the sleep-regulating hormone, per U.S. News & World Report. One workaround is to try a melatonin supplement. The article suggests taking three milligrams each night, but it is always a good idea to ask your doctor before self-medicating.
2. Make getting quality sleep a priority
Getting a sufficient amount of quality sleep is paramount to surviving the night shift. EveryNurse.org says, “Night shift nurses must teach their bodies how to properly fall asleep.” This requires doing things such as darkening your bedroom, and disconnecting phones, doorbells and electronic gadgets to create an atmosphere conducive to sleep.
3. Nourish your body
Diet is a huge contributor to physical and emotional well-being and becomes even more essential when working nights. EveryNurse.org suggests that night shift nurses become grazers, eating lighter and smaller meals more frequently. They recommend snacking on nuts, fruits and vegetables. Eat meals that contain high levels of protein, complex carbohydrates, and low levels of fats.
Instead of reaching for sugary junk food, opt for dried fruit. And stay hydrated with water and fruit juices.
4. Find ways to stay alert
Because there tends to be more downtime when working nights, EveryNurse.org says the shift can feel longer, so finding positive ways to keep busy is imperative. Aside from being able to spend more time on actual patient care, you can alleviate boredom by helping with extra work that is usually done during the day shift.
5. Keep in shape
Exercise is not only good for your overall well-being, but it can also be used as a tool to fight back feelings of fatigue during the night shift. Some suggested activities you can try while at work include climbing stairs, walking to the cafeteria, and playing basketball in the hospital parking lot. And don’t forget to exercise when you’re not on the clock.
6. Find ways to help your circadian rhythm
Blue-light blocking eyewear can help offset the effects of bright night-shift lighting. Night shift workers who wore glasses designed to block blue light in the 460-480 nm range were able to mitigate the impact of night work on their circadian clock, the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine reports. This helped them avoid disruption to the circadian rhythm, which in turn, significantly improved alertness, sleep and mood levels.
There are definite perks associated with working the night shift, including higher pay, more downtime, a more relaxed environment, and greater flexibility to take care of other obligations. But working nights can interfere with sleep and result in a number of health conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and depression. Making simple lifestyle adjustments can go a long way in helping you survive, and thrive, on the night shift.
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