Switching to the overnight shift can be a difficult adjustment for many nurses, and without proper preparation, it can be damaging to one’s body and psyche. Shift work disorder (SWD) is a widely diagnosed issue for overnight shift workers and can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, making it crucial to have a game plan when tackling the transition to the night shift. For night owls, the night shift may seem like a dream. For others, it may require a total lifestyle change and an active effort to maintain a healthy sleep schedule and diet.
So how can a nurse put their best foot forward when embarking on a new night shift schedule? Here are five of our favorite tips and tricks to tackle your first NOC contract with ease.
Pencil in Your Zzzs
There’s no denying that sleep plays an important role in providing the best care to your patients, yourself, and your family. When transitioning to nights, it’s crucial to plan out when you will get your much-needed rest. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, so find a schedule that works for you. Some nurses suggest taking a 15-minute ‘power nap’ at least 5 hours before going into work while transitioning to the night shift. It’s very important to discipline yourself to only sleep a few hours after working the night shift so you can sleep that night. A gradual change in your sleeping habits is key during this time, as a sudden change can disrupt your body, appetite, and energy.
Equip Yourself for More Restful Sleep
Planning on getting enough sleep after your shift isn’t enough. It’s also important to enhance your sleeping experience by investing in a quality night’s rest. Try out a set of blackout curtains to block out the sun during the daytime hours. Only allow phone calls from those you can’t miss (kids’ schools, doctors, etc.) and put the rest on ‘do not disturb mode. A white-noise app or sound machine can be a great tool if you live in a busy city or apartment complex. Uninterrupted sleep is the best kind of sleep for NOC nurses!
Nutrition & Hydration are Key
Keeping your diet balanced and healthy is important to avoid hitting that 3 am slump at work. Try packing some healthy, easy-to-eat snacks (like raisins, bananas, or granola bars), and remember to keep yourself hydrated! Staying hydrated during a long shift will help you feel more alert and energized. Some nurses suggest eating a full meal before work and then a light pick-me-up like a salad or a bowl of oatmeal while on shift to avoid fatigue. As for caffeine, many nurses swear by their coffee or energy drinks, but use them sparingly! The caffeine high will always come with a bit of a crash if you overdo it.
Establish a Routine
Routine is the most important element of mastering the NOC shift. Get yourself a nice daily planner and schedule out when you intend to do errands, chores, and exercise. Map out your sleep schedule and even pencil in a little time for yourself to just relax after your shift. Working nights is all about having a routine down…when you find it, stick with it!
Focus on the Positives of the Night Shift
A positive attitude can greatly improve your time working the night shift. Be thankful for the benefits you may receive from your new shift, like extra time with your family. Oftentimes, nurses report that they forged the strongest friendships with their colleagues while working nights together.