Empty Hospital at Bed Night

Most nurses will spend a little time, if not their whole careers, working the night shift. Typically, this shift is defined as starting at least an hour prior to midnight and ending at least an hour after midnight. No matter the definition, tricking one's circadian rhythm to get enough sleep can be challenging for many nurses. Here are some tips that night shift nurses can implement to set themselves up for maximum rest and health:

  1. Set a routine: Whether you have kids to get off to school or it's just you and the cat, routines tell our bodies what to expect - and you want your body and mind to know that sleep is on the schedule. Setting reminders on your phone or calendar can be a huge help when trying to establish a new routine.
  2. Set up the room: The room where a night shift nurse sleeps should be away from the hustle and bustle of the house where kids playing or the noise from television cannot penetrate. Cover the windows with cardboard or hang black-out curtains to minimize light entering the room.
  3. Set a support network: All of the important people in your life should know that you are nocturnal, so use them. List a neighbor or close friend to be the contact person for the school so you can turn off your phone. A 2016 study published in Social Science & Medicine proved what we already suspected - adults who have their phone on in the room where they sleep have a hard time falling asleep, experience increased insomnia, and were fatigued after rising.
  4. Set some white noise: White noise can be defined as noise that contains many frequencies with equal intensities that allows the brain to focus on a soothing sound. This helps keep your mind quiet and stops the brain from focusing on anything but the calming noise. Some people prefer a simple fan in the room where they sleep, while others prefer purposeful white-noise machines or apps that are clinically proven to improve overall sleep.
  5. Set limits for using any electronics prior to sleeping: A recent article in Psychology Today warns that people who use electronics such as an eReader after lights-out will take longer to fall asleep, suppress melatonin (our circadian hormone), decrease REM and feel groggy throughout the day.
  6. Set an alarm: By setting an alarm to allow you time to wake up slowly with plenty of time to get to your "day," your brain will allow you to sleep more soundly. This also refers back to point #1 - set a routine.
  7. Set your circadian rhythm: Studies of nurses and non-nurses throughout the years show that workers who stick to a night-shift pattern of wake and sleep perform better at their job, are less moody, are more alert when awake, and sleep longer. This is compared to the workers who switch back to an "awake during the day, asleep at night" routine when not scheduled to work.
  8. Set your calorie intake: Nurses are at high risk for obesity by reaching for the high-calorie foods during night shift work. With circadian rhythms being out of kilter it can be easy to live a more sedentary lifestyle. In addition to quality sleep, nurses on the graveyard shift should plan ahead for healthy food options such as carrots, celery, yogurt-based dips or spreads, whole grain bread, and other high-fiber foods.
  9. Set your exercise priorities: Whether you're able to get in a workout before you hit the sheets or after you wake up, nurses should strive for at least 30 minutes of rigorous exercise each day.
  10. Set your caffeine intake: Consuming high levels of caffeine may seem like a good idea during the 2 A.M. doldrums, but caffeine consumption is related to insomnia in many studies. Instead, nurses can try lower-caffeinated drinks such as green tea, ginseng tea, or chicory coffee as a late-night pick-me-up. Other alternatives to reaching for the 32 oz energy drink would be to take a brisk walk or drink 32 oz of ice water.

RELATED: Are Breaks and the 12-Hour Shift Being Dealt a Bad Hand?

Working the night shift has both rewards and challenges. The reward is being able to provide excellent care with (generally) a close-knit crew of co-workers without the oversight of a lot of additional staff and support. Night shift workers tend to be more resourceful as they cannot easily call the physician for simple questions and the executive leadership team is not usually present. The challenges, although similar to the rewards, can be compounded tremendously if lack of sleep is an issue. Nurses must set themselves up for success by implementing steps to promote overall health and effective sleep patterns.

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