Kyle Leffel
Kyle Leffel
March 20, 2017 - 4 min read

5 Tips for Staying Healthy When Switching to Nightshift

In any hospital or healthcare facility you will find nurses, doctors, technicians and other support staff working around the clock to ensure proper care is being given to patients. While patients are sleeping, we are there to keep an eye on them, and ensure they are safe. But this responsibility comes with its own health risks for the night shift healthcare worker. Our bodies were not made to stay up all night and operate as so. I still remember working my first night shift while on a travel assignment. It was a very difficult adjustment for me, considering all my previous experience was in day shift hours. Here are some helpful tips for staying healthy and ensuring an easy transition into a night shift role. They worked for me, maybe they can help you.

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Be consistent in your sleep cycle

It can be grim trying to switch into a night shift role, especially when you’ve never done it before. Trying to stay awake and maintaining mental focus for twelve hours at night can be difficult. Try to get as much sleep as you can and be consistent. Even on your off days try to stay awake during the night. Last thing you want to do is keep flipping around your sleep schedule multiple times during the week. This can be very hard on your body including your metal health. If you find it difficult trying to initiate sleep during the day, try taking a melatonin supplement. This could help you.

What really helped me was incorporating strategic naps before going into work. My schedule was pretty routine. I would get home, take a shower, sleep for four to five hours, wake up, eat and then take a two hour nap later in the day before the start of my night. I did the same thing every day. I tried my best not to alter my schedule unless I absolutely had to. Being consistent really helped me keep a solid sleep cycle and prevented too much sleepiness during my shift.

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Eat healthy foods and workout

Eating healthy foods during your night shift not only has its nutritional benefits, but it can also can help you get through your night. Bright colored vegetables have a lot of vitamins and minerals in them to give you natural energy. Try to stay away from fatty foods during the night. This can be very tempting but a greasy heavy sandwich with fries will just weigh down your stomach, and make you more prone to being tired and contribute to weight gain. Keep the foods light and healthy. I often found myself snacking more than eating large meals. Also, try your best to resist large amounts of caffeine and coffee. This will often make the sleepiness worse, and will lead to a large energy crash halfway through your shift. Believe me, I learned that lesson the hard way.

Working out was really difficult, especially while working night shift but I would still force myself to do something prior to going to bed. This light exercise would often help me get tired, and sleep longer when I was able to go to sleep. It would also help keep myself in shape!

Be around bright lights

If you can work in an area where the bright lights don’t bother patients, keep them on. I would often try to establish my work station near an empty room, were my lights wouldn’t bother a sleeping patient or I would just stay close to the nurse’s station. If my workstation was dark, I would often become sleepy and be glued to my computer screen, since it was my only source of light. While working around the bright lights, it made me think it was still daytime outside and kept me awake.

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Invest in blackout curtains

This is one tip I wished I learned earlier in my career. Especially when I was working night shift in Arizona. When I sleep, I want it to be dark and during the day in Arizona it’s almost always bright and sunny. Which provided plenty of opportunity for some light to shine through my curtains and blinds. I would finally just start to fall asleep and then a small sliver of light would start shining in my eye. This would obviously become very frustrating for me, and it would often prevent me from going back to sleep. My advice, buy some blackout curtains and tape those bad boys to the windows. Seal them shut or better yet, sleep in a basement with no windows. Whatever room you choose to sleep in during the day, try to make it as dark as possible. This will help ensure a solid and consistent sleep cycle.

Know your body and when to seek help

My final and probably most important tip is to know when to ask for help. As a nurse, I understand that we will often put others needs before our own. But working night shift and consistently changing up your sleep schedule can have long term effects on your body, and your mental health. If you feel like something isn’t right or you can’t get a consistent good night sleep talk with a doctor. They could help you put together a successful plan to help you get a good night’s sleep.

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