Few jobs are as demanding as night shift nurse. Although the duties are no different for nurses as night from what day workers have to do, the unusual hours present unique challenges.
Knowing how to handle this situation properly can ensure that you live a happier and healthier life, as well as perform better on the job.
The challenge of the night shift
Studies and statistics have shown that shift work isn’t good for the human body — especially night shifts. That’s because they upset the body’s natural circadian rhythm, which tells the body when it’s time to rest and recuperate.
Research suggests that people who work night shifts for 10 years or more often suffer from memory loss, cognitive deficits, and an array of other mental deficiencies. In addition, other studies have pointed to hourly shift work as a possible factor in heart attacks.
While short-term night shift work is unlikely to cause any permanent damage, these discoveries indicate that it’s vital to pay attention to how you handle unnatural work shifts.
Helpful tips for surviving the night shift
Obviously, working on the night shift shouldn’t be a long-term proposition. As a new nurse, however, you’ll likely be asked to handle a few night shifts each month.
How you tackle these assignments — before, during, and after — will dictate whether or not you succeed. Here are several tips to help youprepare for proper handling of night shifts:
- Stay busy. Although night shifts can be slow, it’s useful to stay active, and find constructive tasks to perform, if you can. The last thing you need to do is doze off. This will further complicate your body’s circadian clock and will leave you feel groggy and disengaged, not to mention the potential danger to your job security.
- Be wary of 4 a.m. Research suggests that for most night shift workers, fatigue and drowsiness peak at 4 a.m. With that in mind, you should avoid scheduling critical tasks at this time, and try to give yourself a boost with physical activity.
- Use caffeine cautiously. While you may enjoy the initial kick that caffeine gives you, it’s best to use caution when it comes to depending on coffee, soda, and energy drinks. Caffeine often comes with negative side effects that leave you feeling jittery. It also stays in your system much longer than you might think and can keep you awake hours after your shift when you should be sleeping.
- Keep your home dark. In your bedroom at home it’s a good idea to invest in blackout curtains. You need to keep your house as dark as possible during the day to avoid sending the wrong signals to your brain. Otherwise, your body will naturally respond to sunlight by waking up.
- Don’t forget about exercise. You mustn’t neglect exercise just because you’re working a night shift. Many nurses like to go for a jog, do yoga, or lift weights a couple hours prior to starting a shift. While you may initially feel more tired, the exercise will invigorate your muscles and keep you engaged over the long run.
- Get home safe. Did you know that almost 20 percent of all serious car-crash injuries are directly attributable to drowsy or sleep-deprived drivers? On your way home from a night shift, be sure to stay alert and keep aware of your surroundings. If you find it too difficult to drive home after a shift, catch a ride with a coworker or call a friend. It’s not worth risking your life just to get home.
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