Humans are diurnal. That’s a fact that we learn in elementary school. Our systems are made in such a way that we function at our peak during the day and we rest at night. It stands to reason, then, that working the night shift can wreak havoc on our sleep/wake cycle. If you’ve found yourself working the night shift for the first time, here are five tips that can make it through your shift without feeling like a zombie:
1.Ditch the Caffeine
If you’re a regular coffee drinker, mainline soda, or chug energy drinks like they’re water, you’ve got to cut back. Too much caffeine, no matter when you drink it, can wreak havoc on your sleep. To avoid caffeine withdrawals, cut back slowly. Instead of drinking four cups of coffee every night this week, drink three and replace your fourth with decaf. Next week, cut back to two caffeinated and two decafs. You get the picture.
2.Adjust Your Eating Habits
When people work during the day, they sometimes have a small breakfast, a lunch at midday and then a large dinner when they get home. You’re going to have to switch this up once you hit the night shift. Instead of having a large dinner when you get home in the morning, eat your main meal before you go to work. Your lunch should be smaller than your dinner, and you should try to eat a small fruit salad or half of a cup of oatmeal when you get home.
3.Stick to Your Schedule
It will be tempting to sleep like a normal person on your days off but, if you can help it, stick to your schedule throughout the whole week. While you can definitely modify it slightly, sleeping during the day, even when you don’t have to work, will help to keep you awake when you work through the night. If you sleep like a typical person on your days off, your first night back to work will be difficult, to say the least.
This one doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for most. Instead of going to bed as soon as you get home, stay up until noon or one in the afternoon and then go to bed. If you think about it, you’ll be sleeping just as you would if you worked during the day: You go to bed, you sleep, you get up, and you go to work. Not only will this help you stay awake through the night, but you’ll be able to get your errands done during the day when other people are at work.
It’s difficult to fall asleep if you’re always moving. If you get tired, resist the urge to “just sit down for a minute.” Instead, stay on your feet and find something to do. Spend your lunch break running up and down the steps or exercising in your hospital’s gym if it so equipped. If you don’t have a gym, find a quiet corner and do a couple of sets of squats, move your arms or jog in place. Moving will keep your body energized and your mind sharp; relaxing is going to make you feel exhausted.
Trust us when we tell you that working the night shift does get easier. The sooner that you can get your body used to working through the night, the sooner you’ll find that you actually enjoy shift work. If you follow the tips above, you’ll be able to make it through your shifts, while your body adjusts, without falling asleep on your feet.
Sharon Smith is a nurse and in her spare time a freelance blogger who knows trying to schedule a hospital’s large nursing staff can be made easier with nurse scheduling software.