Some nurses work the day shift and others work the night shift. Then there’s an entirely different group who works both day and night: the swing-shift nurses. Working swing shifts—day shifts and night shifts in the same week or even in two-week period—can be tough on your body. So we asked an expert to give some great tips on how to deal with it and stay healthy at the same time.

Julie Aiken, DNP, RN, CNE, AHN-BC, CEO of Ameritech College of Healthcare for night shift nurses, suggests the following for nurses working swing shifts:

1. Practice staying up—and sleeping in.

Leading up to your next shift, push back your normal sleep schedule a few days before that shift. Don’t totally shift your cycle, since after your overnight shift ends, you’ll return to a (more) normal work schedule. If you can stay up and sleep in even an hour later, it can help.

Other adjustments like going to the gym at night, and doing housework like dishes at 10 p.m. or midnight, rather than when you finish dinner, can also prepare your body for standing and working when it’s usually sleeping.

2. Sleep—and nap—beforehand.

On a similar note, get as much rest the day before your shift as possible. Sleep in late that morning, and if you can manage to carve out even half an hour to nap, do so. The more you’ve rested, the more energy you’ll have during your shift, even if your body wants to sleep.

3. Eat well and pack good food.

The food we eat matters—and affects our energy levels. Before your shift begins, eat some high-energy food like vegetables and complex carbs. You should also pack a similarly nutritious meal, because the cafeteria may not be open, and junk food from vending machine can make you sleepier. Eating high-energy snacks throughout your shift will keep your body’s metabolism going and your energy up.

4. Keep your mind alert.

Some nurses suggest wearing a bright digital watch during overnight shifts to stay focused, even when you’re feeling groggy. Some people sing songs to themselves; others engage in conversation every fifteen minutes, and a few nurses take 30-second breaks and use breathing exercises to remain mindful. Whatever works for you, try it. When you feel sleepiness creep in, engage your mind in some way to remain awake.

5. Don’t rely on caffeine.

If you’ve pulled an all-nighter before, you know the power of coffee—but you may also remember that as soon as its effects wear off, you crash. That’s a risky method when you’re caring for patients and supporting staff during your overnight clinical shift. If you need a boost, try dark chocolate or a little green tea to supplement more natural efforts at staying awake.

6. Remember that tired is normal.

Your clinical supervisor isn’t going to expect you to be as perfectly alert at 5 a.m. as other RNs will seem to be. S/he knows this is practice and experience, so make sure your effort is on your work and assigned tasks rather than fighting off any hint of drowsiness.

Michele Wojciechowski

Michele Wojciechowski is an award-winning writer and author of the humor book Next Time I Move, They’ll Carry Me Out in a Box.

Latest posts by Michele Wojciechowski (see all)

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