Let me first disclose that I am going on 10 months of working night-shift. I say that humbly before I give advice, as I know that isn’t the longest period of time 🙂
However, I built really healthy habits before I was a nurse and those have translated into the big adjustment of switching careers AND working night-shift. Additionally, a lot of these tips work for any shift.
Night-shift is a very different life. People that have not worked it, aren’t going to understand the struggle. And that’s okay! How could they if they haven’t experienced changing their schedule from normal to nocturnal and back every week? My family often forgets that I will never, ever be answering my phone in the middle of the day after shifts. When I answer at 4 pm with a groggy voice they always say with surprise “are you just waking up?” I reply “yes, I work the night-shift…remember?” Friends and family invite you to their events during prime sleeping time (completely not your fault you are running on normal time, but please understand if I cannot attend). My favorite is when I tell someone that I work night-shift they look at me like it is the worst thing that could ever happen to a person (it’s not).
I take that all in stride. My husband and I often remind ourselves that we make it work for us and it has not negatively impacted our relationship or lives in a big way. Plus, the patients need their night-shift nurses 🙂
All that being said, there are some major perks of the shift! I’ll save that for a different day.
Here are my best tips for adjusting/managing a night-shift life:
1) SLEEP! A lot of my coworkers skimp on their sleep. I cannot understand this phenomenon because sleep is one of my favorite things in this life. Just because you are working night-shift does not mean that you have a supernatural power to sleep less than everyone else. Of course there are rare occasions that I have to skimp on some sleep (ex. only sleeping a couple hours so I can make it home for a holiday or a completely necessary trip to Lambeau), but for the most part I’m not willing to sacrifice sleep unless absolutely necessary. It’s just not healthy.
2) Utilize black-out shades. These are life changing. You need these if you are going to have a prolonged stint on night-shift. I tried a sleep mask, but I didn’t like the feeling of something on my face and it was never in place by the time I woke up. Black-out shades trick my body into thinking it is time to sleep and allow me to sleep more soundly. I purchased mine at Kohl’s. They were very reasonable, matched the vibe in our room, and work well.
3) Sleep with your phone on silent and do not look at it if you wake up. I actually think the entire world should do this. What is worse than waking up to a text message ding or phone call? If you work night-shift this is a must because everyone forgets you work night-shift and will text you during the day. Also, if you do wake up do not look at your phone. I’ve found it’s harder to fall back asleep if I answer text messages or scroll down Instagram. I broke this rule last week and suffered the consequences.
4) Know when to say no. My wonderful co-workers love to go out for a drink or brunch after we are done with our shift. I haven’t gone once. This is not to say that I won’t, but I just need to get home to my bed. Plus, I don’t want to drink or put a big meal in my belly before I go to sleep. I tell them I will make it to the next dinner or hike. And it’s true, I’ve enjoyed a lot of time with my co-workers outside of work without going to night-shift’s version of happy hour. I’ve only stayed up once for a long time after work and that was completely necessary because my Jeep broke down. It was noon before I got to bed and I felt sick, dizzy, and crabby (I’m like a child when I don’t get enough sleep, I need to work on that). I am typically in bed by 8:30am and try to stay there until 4pm or later if my body is willing. It’s also okay to not attend every family or friend event. It’s just not going to be possible with this schedule. This is a hard one, you will have to prioritize and know that your friends and family will understand.
4) Just because you work the night-shift doesn’t mean you can eat like crap. In fact, I truly think the nursing profession as a whole has an issue with this. There is always an overabundance of junk food in the break room. This is one way patients, doctors, and co-workers show love and thanks. I’m talking bagels, cupcakes, donuts, cookies, cakes, etc., etc. For me, it’s usually pretty easy to say no (those sprinkled donuts after a night-shift are the hardest, but still….no). I would just rather spend my indulgences elsewhere like on a walk to the frozen yogurt place. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about finding balance and not just mindlessly popping any treat into your mouth.
5) Meal planning. This is the hardest for me! It’s just so weird. This is what I’ve found to work best on a work day:
8 hours shift
Lunch: 7-8pm. Drew and I eat this meal together. It is his dinner and my lunch. It’s my biggest meal of the day. I love the time together.
Dinner: 3am. I treat this as a lunch portion.
Snack: 8am. I always have to eat when I get home. I’m so hungry after the busy morning. I listen to my body. I’ve found if I don’t eat I wake up starving at about 1pm and I cannot sleep through that state.
I’m going to start working more 12 hour shifts (super exciting), so my meals will look a little bit different.
12 hour shift
Breakfast: (same as above)
Lunch: 5:45pm. On 12 hour days this meal is smaller because there isn’t too much time between breakfast and lunch for me.
Snack: 10:30pm-ish. Before shift change I try to have a snack to keep me going until dinner time. Typically something like greek yogurt+ fruit+ walnuts.
Dinner: 3am. (same as above)
Snack: 8am. (same as above)
Anyone else have successful tips?! Have a great and healthy week everyone.