Nursing is hard work at any time; however, switching to the night shift can really take its toll on your health, resulting in extreme tiredness, which can affect your concentration, and sleep disruption, which can affect your energy levels. Night work can cause mental as well as physical upsets, so it’s very important to prepare yourself for a change of shifts beforehand and to really look after yourself once you’re working overnight on a regular basis. Here are a few things that you can do to help yourself stay healthy and fit.
Respect Your Sleep Cycle
Your natural circadian rhythm has to make a big readjustment on night shift, when you’re meant to be alert and working during a period you are normally asleep. One thing that may help is installing blackout blinds wherever you plan to sleep during daylight hours. Screening out daylight may make it easier to get to sleep. A sleep mask and ear plugs may also prove useful. Also, there are a few other things that might help, some of which are practiced by seasoned travelers who frequently move through several different time zones on long-haul flights.
Schedule Your Sleep
Once your schedule is embedded in a period of night working, it will actually help you to maintain a consistent timetable. Try to do this even on your nights off, if you know that you will be working the shift for, say, ten weeks in a row. Setting up a regular regime can help enormously, and there’s no harm in building in a nap. Try doing some light exercise and then having a shower after your shift. Aim to sleep for four or five hours and then have a nutritious meal. You can always have a final short nap: two hours should be enough for you to feel refreshed and ready for work. If you find it difficult to sleep during daylight hours, you can always take melatonin, a supplement used to combat jet lag.
Exercise for Better Health
Don’t be misled into thinking that you should give up your exercise routine when on night shift – quite the opposite. You don’t need to do a full gym workout; however, light exercise will make you feel better, and there are some clever aids that will help you become fitter more quickly. One way to feel great while working out is to wear a compression shirt to get extra support for your back, arms, and shoulders, provided by the clothing’s built in compression features. You can also get support for other body areas, depending on the kind of exercise that you prefer. Compression wear is also worn as a lifestyle choice – for example, compression socks will support your legs while you’re on your feet at work.
Exercise may sound impossible to nurses working 12-hour shifts, but being consistent can help you maintain your energy and keep you at your best. If you can’t do a workout on the days that you are on shift, you can always opt for a brisk walk or a gentle yoga session. Any low-impact activity is better than none. On your days off, you can always take a trip to the gym or try out some weights.
It’s tempting to fill up on lots of food at mealtimes on the basis that this might benefit your energy levels; however, be warned that regular heavy, stodgy meals will actually have the opposite effect. Your stomach will feel uncomfortably full, and if you wash down greasy food with gallons of caffeine, you’re on a self-destructive path that may make you more sleepless than ever.
To avoid energy drain halfway through your shift, try to eat frequent small nutritious snacks that include plenty of minerals and vitamins, such as salads, nuts, fresh fruit, or dishes with lots of vegetables.
You probably already bring a bottle of water with you to work, but if not, it’s good to consider doing so. Drinking water can help you to stay alert and may reduce your level of tiredness during your shift. Other nutritious drinks include herbal teas, with reduced or no sugar, and fruit or vegetable juices, with reduced sodium. Avoid alcohol before, during, and after work as well as soft drinks that are loaded with sugar. Like caffeine, sugary drinks will give you a temporary boost that will wear off pretty quickly during your working hours.
Look After Yourself
The key message, then, is look after yourself when you’re working night shifts and be aware of the likely impacts on your personal well-being. Be prepared and you’re likely to cope well and recover quicker.
Being a nurse, we are often required to work long shifts. When nurses work extended hours, most of them do not have time to eat properly. This can adversely affect their health and well-being. Some nurses even develop long-term medical conditions, such as heartburn, indigestion, and peptic ulcer disease. Previous studies have shown that jobs with high stress and responsibility and shift work contribute to peptic ulcer disease and metabolic disorders. Eating for good health is one way that nurses can reduce the impact of stressors on the body and promote their health while working the night shift.
Here are four steps to help you maintain healthy eating and improve your nutrition when working a shift schedule.
1. Eat before going to work.
It is important that you have your main meal before going to work. If you are on the afternoon shift, you should have your main meal at mid-day around noon. If you are on the evening shift, eat your main meal at about 6 pm or 7 pm. You should also have a small meal or healthy snacks such as nuts, apple, and crackers during your shift. Try to avoid eating large meals during the night as it can cause heartburn, gas, or constipation.
2. Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration.
Bring a bottle of water to work. Water can help you to stay alert and not feel so tired during your shift. Avoid drinking sugary soft drinks and alcohol before, during, and after work. Unsweetened herbal tea and low sodium 100% vegetable and fruit juices are other nutritious beverages that you can drink.
3. Avoid fatty, fried, or spicy foods.
Try not to eat greasy foods or foods with high fat, such as cheeseburgers and fried food, before going to work because these foods may lead to discomfort and indigestion.
4. Limit (or moderate) your caffeine consumption.
Try to limit caffeine intake at least four to five hours before the end of your shift. Since caffeine can stay in your system for many hours, this can affect your sleep when you are ready for bed.
With all the alarming news touting a long nursing shift and a late shift as potential health wreckers, nurses have to wonder if their crazy work hours could be bringing them long-term health consequences.
A study in the International Journal of Nursing Studies recently called attention to the risk for young nurses who work night hours or long hours that include overtime. The study noted that nurses in those shift situations run a much higher risk of on-the-job injuries like a needle stick or a sprain. The news is far from reassuring as the study reports that 44 percent of new nurses regularly work night shift schedules, nearly two thirds of them work overtime, and 79 percent work 12-hour shifts.
The study looked at 1744 registered nurses who had passed their state licensure exams within the past 6 to 18 months. Different factors were associated with more risk of certain injuries. For instance, longer hours like those in 12-hour shifts were associated more with needle sticks while more overtime hours, not necessarily in a 12-hour format, were associated with more of a chance of a sprain or strain
According to the study, more research is needed on the topic as the risk for injury was elevated. “Overtime and night shift work were significantly associated with increased injury risk in newly licensed nurses independent of other work factors and demographic characteristics,” the report states. “The findings warrant further study given the long-term consequences of these injuries, costs associated with treatment, and loss of worker productivity.”
What can new nurses who are bound to be working long and hard hours do? Being aware and proactive to avoid injury are only going to help you avoid these kinds of occupational hazards. Use whatever safety equipment is available to you, especially when moving patients. Take extra precautions around needles, and take advantage of any safety workshops or events your employer sponsors or gives you access to.
Lastly, nurses are more likely to get injured if they aren’t taking care of themselves. Be sure to get enough rest and sleep when you aren’t working and work in some downtime as well. Eat enough good quality foods (including getting enough protein) and drink enough fluids so you aren’t even the slightest bit dehydrated. And, of course, if you sustain any type of injury on the job, report it promptly and get the care and follow up your injury requires.
See Our Champions of Nursing Diversity
Sign up now to get your free digital subscription to Minority Nurse