Most nurses at some point in their career will have to work night shift. The grueling hours can take their toll on your body and your life, so it is important to focus on taking care of yourself. Here are a few suggestions for how you can be healthier (and happier) while working night shift:
1. Find a sleep schedule that works for you.
It is important to find a sleep schedule that works for you while working night shift. Some people can switch back and forth between day shift and night shift simply by taking long naps the day before they work (e.g., sleep 10 pm – 6 am and nap 3 pm – 5 pm). If you find you are unable to take naps, try sleeping in late the morning before you work (e.g., sleep 2 am – 10 am). You may also find that your body functions better with only a partial switch in your sleep schedule, so that you stay up later at night and sleep later in the day, even on your days off (e.g., sleep 4 am – 12 pm on your days off).
2. Drink caffeinated beverages (in moderation).
Many night shift workers are dependent on caffeine for survival. If you are someone who relies on caffeine to stay awake during your shift, be sure to stay away from energy drinks that are loaded with sugar and large amounts of caffeine. Instead, drink coffee or tea. Remember to stop drinking caffeinated beverages around 2 am to avoid being unable to sleep later in the morning.
3. Fuel your body with healthy foods.
It may be tempting to binge on sugary foods to feel energized, but these foods will cause your blood sugar to crash and your stomach to rumble shortly afterward. Fill your lunch box with high protein foods that will help you stay full longer, and fruits and veggies that will help your body feel refreshed instead of sluggish. Try packing items like apples with peanut butter, salad with fruit and nut toppings, or a brown rice veggie bowl.
4. Practice good sleep hygiene.
One of the most difficult parts about working night shift is having to sleep during the day. By practicing good sleep hygiene, you will be able to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Try investing in a good set of blackout curtains and earplugs to simulate the quiet darkness of nighttime. Avoid watching TV or looking at your phone before you sleep, and be sure to turn your phone to silent mode to avoid notifications that will wake you up. Before you crawl into bed, take some time to unwind and relax by stretching, reading, or meditating; this will help signal your body that it is time for sleep.
5. Stay hydrated.
Staying hydrated throughout your night shift will help your mind stay alert and your body feel energized. Your body is made of over 60% water, and water fuels almost every bodily function. The average woman should drink approximately 2.7 liters of water, and the average man should drink 3.7 liters of water per day. If you’re not a fan of plain water, try adding slices of fruit to your water for some extra flavor.
6. Seek professional help if needed.
Some people experience headaches, insomnia, and nausea while working night shift. Give your body a month or so to adjust to your new lifestyle, and if you continue to struggle, talk with your doctor. A doctor may be able to advise you on how to treat and manage your symptoms.