At one time, the third shift was only applicable to grave diggers, which earned it the title of “the graveyard shift.” However, in the modern era, many people from convenience store workers to hospital staff work round the clock, but many have trouble transitioning from living their lives during the day to doing so at night. It is especially important for people such as nurses, who are responsible for the lives of others, to adjust well to third shift life. Use these four tips to flawlessly ease into working overnight while maintaining a sense of normalcy:
1. Sleep Like a Vampire. Coffins are unnecessary, but absolute darkness makes it far easier to sleep during the day. Most people are wired to wake and sleep with the sun’s cycle, and it is difficult for the body to get used to sleeping when the sun is up. To combat that, get blackout curtains or put up indoor shutters over windows. Ambient light from street lamps always seeps in at night, but that light is far more muted than the sun. Window coverings that work at night will not efficiently keep the light out in the day. Nurses can ask maintenance staff at the hospitals they work at about the light blocking systems in resident sleeping quarters for brand names and suppliers to make the task easier at home.
2. Adjust on Days Off. While it is better to take a week to gradually go to bed later and later until it is “normal” to wake up in the afternoon instead of the morning, not everyone has that luxury. Nurses, for instance, often have to switch to third shift with only a day or two to adjust. The same applies to other professions. If a week is not possible, use days off to go to bed and wake up three or four hours later than usual. Use that time to prepare the windows too.
3. Breakfast Becomes Dinner. As the sleep schedule moves, adjust meal times accordingly. This will keep you from getting in the habit of overeating. Remember to keep healthy snacks like carrots or yogurt cups on hand for the first few weeks. Eat a normal breakfast, but do it in the evening, have “lunch” around 3:00 a.m., and have dinner when those who work the day shift usually have breakfast. Stop drinking caffeine by at least “lunch time” (3:00 a.m.) so that you will have an easier time falling asleep during the day.
4. Stick With the Schedule. While tempting to live by day shift hours during days off, that will only cause perpetual tiredness for the duration of a third shift schedule. Go shopping during the morning, continue to sleep during the day and fit social activities into daylight hours. Consistency is the best way to make working the third shift less likely to affect mood. That is important for professions like nursing where a good mood can make a world of difference to patients.
To ensure a relatively smooth and painless transition, practice consistency. Realigning life to third shift is not easy, but it is definitely achievable!
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Kimberly Thomas is a nurse educator who spent many years on and off the “graveyard shift”. She regularly shares her advice about the nursing profession at Top 10 Best Online RN to BSN Programs.