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The first time: surviving the night shift

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Sudden changes to your sleep patterns can be tough on your body and mind. Follow these tips to help ease the transition

Your first time working the night shift can be a difficult adjustment to overcome. Your body is naturally programmed to be awake during the day and asleep at night, so it can take time getting used to the new routine.

A night shift may come with long periods of inactivity, and it can be difficult to remain alert and focused while your body is adjusting to the new schedule.

If you find yourself losing steam midway through the shift, unable to focus on your work, or counting down the minutes until you can go home and crawl into bed, you may need to adjust your approach to the shift, or to your daytime sleep routine. It will take a bit of getting used to, but once you get in the habit, the night shift is not nearly as daunting as it may first seem.

Tips for staying awake and alert during your shift

  1. Nap. Take a 30 minute nap before your shift begins and, if possible, try to get in a few 10-20 minute naps throughout the night. Short periods of rest will help keep your energy high, but be sure not to sleep too long or you’ll risk making yourself groggy.
  2. Eat small portions throughout the shift. Instead of eating a giant meal right before your 12 hours on the ward, pack healthy snacks to eat throughout the night. Eating small snacks throughout your working “night” will help keep your energy up. A change in your sleep pattern can make your digestive system more sensitive, and large meals can be more difficult to digest than lighter snacks.
  3. Keep moving. When you have downtime during your shift, don’t just sit there. Walk around, stretch, exercise. Keeping your body moving will keep your blood flowing and mind awake.
  4. Chat with your co-workers. Keeping your mind active with conversation will prevent you from dozing off. You also may be able to discuss difficulties that you’re having with the night shift transition and share tips for coping with the changes.
  5. Be careful with your caffeine intake. Having a caffeinated drink before you begin your shift or earlier on into the night can help keep you alert and focused. But try to avoid drinking coffee, tea or fizzy drinks that contain caffeine later on in your shift, as they can make it difficult for you to fall asleep when you get home – thereby interrupting your sleep cycle.

Tips for getting a good sleep in during the day

  1. Designate a quiet sleep area. Convincing your body to sleep during the day can be a challenge, especially if you are surrounded by reminders that it’s not night time. Creating a comfortable sleep space, one that’s dark, quiet and cool, can help you relax into a good day’s rest.
  2. Set a sleep schedule and stick to it. Your body likes routine, so developing a schedule and sticking to it will help you adjust quicker. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.

Working your first night shift requires a bit of an adjustment, but once you develop a routine that works for you, it can be a shift full of learning experience and opportunities.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Adam Roxby

    I have done a few shifts as a student (quite a few as a HCA) and I personally find them ok. I find that hardest thing is the boring 30 minute drive home.

    My personal remedy was to have a filer coffee just before I get in the car just to ensure I get to my destination in one piece. I know the article suggests against this but it was my own little requirement.

    I also use to think that the long nights would be a good opportunity to catch up on some reading but this was a big mistake!

    Don't forget to share your own tips here or head on over to our forum.

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