How to Survive Night Shift

First, I want to start off by saying that everyone responds differently to night shift. Some people are late night people prior to starting night shift and adapt well to the new sleep schedule. *I am not writing this for these people. I am writing this for people like myself who typically go to bed about 9pm and consider staying up till 10pm to be a late night. As a new RN, I realized that working night shift was something that I would have to do to get the job that I desired. I accepted a position in the Neonatal ICU where I work 7pm-7am. I also have about a 30-45-minute commute to work each day.

In the beginning, I was so worried about switching to night shift that I searched high and low for advice on how to make the transition smoother. Surprisingly, there are very few articles on night shift outside of ones explaining how terrible it is for your body. This is why I decided it would be a good topic to blog about even though I am still struggling with adapting myself.

Here are some things that are helping me survive night shift and make the most of it.

What I do to switch from days to nights:

  1. I stay up till 3 or 4am the night before my shift. This helps me to sleep during the day before my shift and get flipped back on nights.

  2. I make lots of food before I go back to work. This serves multiple purposes. My husband and I cook together so this gives us quality time, and it allows me to have several meals ready for work (I don’t cook when I am working 12-hour shifts.) After we get done cooking up a storm, the kitchen looks like a bomb went off. Instead of spending the rest of the evening doing dishes, we just focus on spending time together. We will usually play cards, watch a movie, or work on a project. Then, after my husband goes to bed, I do all the dishes and clean the kitchen. This is one of the best things for me to do from 10pm-3am while my husband is asleep because it is productive and helps me wake up.

  3. During the late-night hours, I clean my house and catch up on laundry. I love having an empty hamper and a clean house when I start my work stretch. Plus, the laundry and housework usually pile up on nights I work.

  4. Night shift perk: I have had time for some of my old hobbies and developed some new ones too! Some examples of good nighttime hobbies are: Bible study, knitting, drawing, yoga, blogging, learning a new language, scrap booking etc.

  5. Lastly, I take measures to get a good day’s sleep. I bought black out curtains for our bedroom and I try to make it as dark as possible (I also know lots of nurses who use a sleep mask for this same reason). I have not bought a sound machine (I would recommend this if you are sensitive to noise), but I do make sure my phone is on alarms only. I would also remind your friends and family that you are on night shift and may not be able to answer their calls during the day. If you get a lot of sales people it might also be a good idea to put a sign on the door that asks people not to knock. Finally, you can try a sleep aid like melatonin or Benadryl. I do take Benadryl when I am switching back and forth. My personal rule is that I will not take it unless I know I can sleep for 8 hours.

To switch from nights back to days I don’t have a set routine because it’s easy for me to switch this direction. I am usually so exhausted that I can sleep most of the day and still sleep solidly that night. I typically try to drag myself out of bed as early as possible (about 3pm) and not go to sleep until my normal time. I also don’t take sleeping pills when I get home that day, but I will take them that night to help me sleep the whole night through.

Now for the things I do NOT do:

  1. I do NOT veg out on TV when I have a night off or am trying to switch back and forth. I personally feel like TV is a waste of time, and it doesn’t really help me stay awake anyways. David and I do not even own a television set because we would rather use our time in other ways. Refer to the list of hobbies above for other activities that you can replace TV with.

  2. I do NOT drink tons of coffee and caffeinated drinks. Sometimes I will drink coffee on my way to work or at the start of my shift during my "morning," but not late at night. My theory is that if I need coffee to stay awake then I just need more sleep. I feel like caffeine is just a band aid for sleep deprivation. Instead, I chose to find ways to get more sleep during the day including using a sleep aid.

  3. I do NOT try to do things during the day when I know I need to be up for work that night. I understand the temptation to go to your friend’s baby shower or family event etc. when you should be sleeping. However, if you would not go to a party at 2am in the morning when you were on day shift and had work the next day, then don’t think that you can go to an event at 2pm if you need to work all night.

  4. I also TRY not to eat unhealthy snacks to help me stay awake. Carrots, grapes and nuts can help you stay awake as much as chips and candy. I think that late at night we just tend to crave unhealthy foods but by pre-packing your lunch box with healthy snacks you avoid the temptation to eat junk.

Disclaimer: I did see several places that staying on nights is much healthier than switching back and forth. However, I work a 4-1-2 pattern which means that I work for 4 nights, have 1 night off and then work 2 more nights. The beauty of this is I get long off stretches (5 to 7 days) so I feel like it is worth it for me to switch back and forth. If you only have one or two nights off it may not be a good idea to try and switch.

At first, I wondered what I would do with random days off during the week while my husband was at work, but I quickly figured out some fun options. Here are some suggestions I found: grab lunch with a family member or friend you have been missing, run errands, schedule doctor’s appointments, get involved with your church, pick up a side job, and enjoy being outside. I miss being outside in the sunshine, so I make sure that I get plenty of vitamin D on my days off!

This is still relatively new to me, so I would love to hear other people’s thoughts on what helps them with night shift!

#nurse #nightshift #nightshift

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About Courtney

Courtney lives in Birmingham, Alabama with her husband, David, and son, Noah. She works as a nurse and a Mom. Courtney is inspired by Montessori practices, sustainability and minimalism.

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