Working overnight shifts is a big change for many nurses, but it’s also extremely common. With the 24-hour demands of the bustling, modern health care system, there’s a good chance you’ll have to work the night shift at some point in your career, especially when you’re starting out. But don’t fret! There are many ways to ensure that the transition from day to night goes as smoothly as possible.

All nurses need to be on their A-game with technical medical skills and emotional resilience no matter what time of day they’re working. Night shift nurses have to shoulder even more burdens because they often work mostly or entirely alone for their shift. While there’s no one “right” way to adapt to the night shift, there are several common mistakes that you’ll want to avoid to build good habits.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Switching to the Night Shift

Going against your circadian rhythm is no small task. However, resorting to quick fixes will only make your shifts more difficult in the long run. Avoid these five common mistakes and you’ll adapt to the swing of a night shift quickly.

1. Not getting enough rest before starting a shift.

As a nurse, it’s important to always be sharp on the job. The staff at Gurwin Jewish Nursing and Rehabilitation Center emphasize that not getting enough rest is the number one mistake that new night shift workers make, and it’s one of the most dangerous. Since shifts are often upwards of eight hours long, there’s no safe way to “power through” on too little sleep. This goes for both on-shift work and driving when sleep-deprived.

How to Avoid It:

  • Install blackout curtains where you sleep and get a fan or white noise generator.
  • Turn off your phone, get a “Do Not Disturb” sign, and inform loved ones of your schedule.
  • Staying up for a few hours to relax and take care of yourself may be easier for some nurses than going straight to bed at the end of a shift. You’ll figure out what works for you with time, so don’t be afraid to experiment.
  • Take proper care of your legs and feet while on your shift, so you won’t be troubled by pain or soreness when you’re trying to sleep.
  • Light soothing candles and practice stretches to relax yourself before bed.

2. Leaning on sugary foods, alcohol, or caffeine instead of proper nutrition.

It can be tempting to snack on chocolate or chug coffee to keep yourself going through your night shift. Keep in mind that, if consumed in excess, coffee can lead to jitters at first, followed by a crash. You’ll be far better off if you instead focus on getting more sleep.

How to Avoid It:

  • Plan and pack your meals ahead of time to avoid relying on vending machines.
  • Schedule your heavy meals so they won’t interfere with sleep.

3. Letting your personal life fall into disorder.

Sometimes it’s hard to keep your personal life in order while working the night shift. Errands, social gatherings, and childcare all battle for your attention when you’re not at work. This reduces your ability to get good sleep and, in turn, to focus at work.

How to Avoid It:

  • Yoga and meditation help you relax and leave work behind so you can be present when you’re engaging with family or friends.
  • Establish a schedule for sleep, chores, and activities. This will reduce the stress of missing out on things.
  • Plan gatherings ahead of time with friends and family to ensure you can make it to fun gatherings.

4. Not asking for help or feeling like you have to “do it all.”

Yes, there are fewer resources available overnight at the hospital. This can lead to superhero-esque thinking, where you refuse or even genuinely forget to ask for help. Being honest about needing a hand is better than dropping the ball because you’re juggling while tired.

How to Avoid It:

  • Get to know the others who work nights so you can trade favors.
  • Get to know the resources available to you during your shift.
  • Ensure that your roommates or family are sharing the load with you at home.
  • Choose sleep over chores when possible at home. Others can help you with chores, but they can’t sleep for you!

5. Missing out on workplace bonding, training, or resources due to night shifts.

It’s easy to feel forgotten when working the night shift. Try not to miss out on opportunities for bonding, continuing education, or extra support because of your schedule. It can be hard to make time or schedule changes for these opportunities, but they’re integral to your career development down the line.

How to Avoid It:

  • Check announcement boards and learn about opportunities available at your workplace.
  • Make it known to your boss and coworkers that you’re interested in additional training, support, resources or team bonding even if you work the night shift.
  • Ask if there are online resources available for any opportunities that you simply cannot attend.

Your job as a nurse is important. Don’t let working the night shift get in the way of providing the best care possible to your patients and yourself. Getting enough sleep is integral to your job performance and personal health, but that’s not always enough. You also need to make sure you’re practicing good self-care and focusing on your health along the way. With these great tips, you’ll adapt to the night shift in no time!

Deborah Swanson

Deborah Swanson is a medical office professional with two decades of experience helping small practices and large hospitals alike improve efficiencies. She recently started consulting with allheart.com providing insight into the daily activities of medical professionals and how best to serve them.

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