Strategies to Help You Deal With Night Shift Work Effectively

Mar 26, 2023

As Nurses, we tend to take the unexpected in our stride. We pride ourselves on being pretty adaptable and thick-skinned; always ready for whatever the job throws our way.

Body fluids and mysterious growths? No problem. Scared families? Par for the course. 12-hour shifts? Keep calm and nurse on!

But adapting to night shift work can be a whole new ball game. When you’re fighting sleep deprivation and battling against the natural rhythm of your brain and body, guzzling enormous amounts of caffeine doesn’t always cut it.

The good news is that you’re not alone. According to the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics, around 14% of the UK population are now employed in some form of shift work.

When a strong cuppa isn’t enough to lift you to your best, you need to find some new strategies to help you to get through the twilight hours that come along with night shifts. Here are our top strategies to help you deal with night shifts once and for all.

Understanding your Sleep-Wake Cycle

Before we get down to the strategies for dealing with night shifts, let’s first look at the factors influencing your sleep-wake cycle. Plenty of different elements can cause sleep disturbances and impact the body clock, as well as affect your family and social life.

Factors that can influence your body clock include:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Personality
  • Morning vs night person
  • Ease of sleeping at unusual times
  • Ease of sleeping in unusual locations
  • Noise
  • Weather
  • Quiet space available for rests/breaks in the workplace
  • Social aspects in the workplace
  • Ability to rest during periods when you’re not working, e.g. managing childcare, a second job or carrying out other commitments

Adjusting your body clock takes some time but when you consider each of the factors above you can make night shifts work for you.

Strategies to Deal with the Night Shift

1.      Get Your Zzz’s

Whether you’re about to start your first night shift or working your 1200th night shift, this rule applies: get all the sleep you can in preparation.

Start by getting as much rest as possible the night before (or the day before if you’re already working nights!). Then try to sneak in a nap that afternoon if you can too. It’s super important that you encourage good sleep management habits, so you’re alert and awake for the shift ahead.

2.      Stay Hydrated

We all know how busy nursing can be. Some days (or nights!) it can seem like you barely have a second to breathe, let alone stop for some water.

But drinking plenty of water throughout your shift will keep you energised and alert. Dehydration can leave you feeling fatigued since it impacts the flow of oxygen to the brain and results in your heart having to work harder to pump the oxygen around your body. So seriously – stop for a quick glass of water whenever you can!

3.      Eat the Right Snacks

When we say the ‘right’ snacks, we mean foods that will give you energy. Eating a huge carb-filled meal can easily make you feel heavy, bloated and ready for a good night’s rest – the opposite of what you want when working the night shift. Instead, grab some snacks that you can munch on throughout the night.

Snacks like apples, carrots with hummus, fruits and nuts or trail mix are all great options that will provide much-needed energy to keep you going. Steer clear of sweets and cakes wherever possible. They might offer some temporary energy, but with every sugar rush comes the drop afterwards.

4.      Time Your Caffeine

Coffee can be a lifesaver on a night shift when you’re feeling tired and lethargic. But coffee consumed at the wrong time can wreak havoc on your sleep schedule.

By all means, have a coffee or caffeinated beverage early in your night; however, avoid it later in your shift as it can make it difficult to fall asleep once you get home. It’s no different from drinking coffee in the evening during a normal sleep cycle.

5.      Have a Chat and Stay Busy

Nothing makes a night feel longer than being bored. Watching the clock and counting down seconds can make the hours slowly drag by. When the night feels like it may go on forever, find creative ways to stay busy.

Chat with your fellow night-shifters and get to know them. Is there anything extra you can get involved with? There’s plenty to do on night shifts even when patients are sleeping!

6.      Make it Easy to Sleep

Once you’re home from your shift and thinking about heading to bed, set up a routine for sleep that works for you.

Some of the things you can do to increase your quality of sleep include:

  • Setting up your room. Try to sleep in a space far away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the house. Block out as much light as possible by hanging blackout curtains or covering the windows.
  • Play white noise. These sounds can keep your mind quiet and stop the brain from focusing on anything except the calming white noise.
  • Set limits for electronics before sleep time. Studies by The Sleep Charity and The Sleep Foundation found that night-time use of light-emitting devices suppresses the production of melatonin. This plays havoc with your body’s circadian rhythms, negatively y impacting sleep and making it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.Turn off the devices before you head to the bedroom, if possible. Not just to limit the blue light, but looking at content can also stimulate your thoughts.
  • Engage a support network. All your nearest and dearest should know that you’re on night shift work, so they can be your eyes and ears in the daytime while you’re fast asleep. For example, ask a close family member or friend if they can be the contact person for your child’s school or ask a neighbour if they might be able to help with the morning school drop-off.
  • Avoid your bedroom when you’re awake. Where you can, try to keep your waking activities to other rooms. It can be tough to adapt to sleeping during the day, so adjusting your brain to associate your bedroom with sleep will help change that pattern.

7.      Be Active and Make Healthy Choices

When you’re not on the night shift clock, try to stay active and make healthy choices to counteract the balance of working throughout the night. Getting exercise, eating well and spending time outside will positively impact your overall health and wellbeing.

Final Thoughts

All nursing jobs come with their own unique challenges. But when it comes to night shift work, the challenges don’t have to be too hard to overcome.

By preparing as much as you can ahead of your shift, you can step into each day feeling ready for whatever comes.

If you’re searching for your next career move (maybe into nursing night shifts), the team of nurse recruitment specialists at WESolutions can help you find your ideal role. To learn more about the nursing jobs we have available all over the UK, get in touch with our team.