Nursing Lifestyle

15 Tips for Surviving the Night Shift

15 Tips for Surviving the Night Shift

Key Takeaways

  • Napping before your shift and even during breaks in your shift can give you an energy boost.
  • Avoid eating oily or fatty foods, as these can make you groggy and sleepy.
  • Keep your mind busy by working hard, engaging in conversations with coworkers, and even listening to upbeat music.  

While there are people who prefer to work in an office, there are also individuals who would willingly sacrifice their hours of sleep just to save a life. Nurses are probably one of the most noble professions in the healthcare industry. Not only are they able to assist doctors in settings like emergency and operating rooms, but they also, most of the time, become a confidant of the patients.

If you are one of those nurses who works a night shift, then you surely have encountered problems like finding tips to help you stay awake for a long shift. Feeling drowsy during your shift is a very critical concern, as humans tend to commit mistakes while at this phase. You could give the wrong doctor’s prescription to a patient or have difficulty in getting the exact details of an emergency when you feel sleepy.

There are a lot of suggestions on how to combat drowsiness, to the point that it is so easy to get confused on which ones are effective and which ones are not. Therefore, in this article, we have gathered the top fifteen tips to stay awake despite the long shift. 

1. Have a solid nap of 30 minutes before your shift

Most nurses would probably be in a hurry at this time to get to the hospital. This will not only affect your punctuality record, but it could also affect your performance. Having a good, solid 30 minute nap before your shift would give you the energy to start your routine. To do this, you have to prepare a little bit earlier than usual. You can take a nap at home if you are confident you can wake up before your shift, or you can opt to take a nap at the nurse's station at the hospital (or a sleeping station if there is one). This 30 minute rest will serve as your power nap that keeps your energy high.

2. Keep your caffeine intake well-regulated

Yes, coffee can be helpful for those of you who are working a night shift. However, health experts also suggest that people who work late, including nurses working at night, should be cautious of their coffee intake. This is because taking too much caffeine can make it difficult for you to sleep; hence, affecting your sleep cycle, which will then affect your energy for the next day’s shift. You can still drink coffee if you want, but try to drink it right before your shift or during the earlier time of your shift. This will be enough to give you the energy to surpass the drowsiness while giving your body the time needed to wash out the caffeine.

3. Keep your mind busy

This is the common reason why most workaholics don’t have problems staying awake at night. This tip will help you divert your attention and keep your mind running. If your mind is active even at night, then it would be hard for you to fall asleep, even if your body is telling you to rest. As a nurse, you can occupy yourself by checking up on the patients under your care and doing works ahead of time.

4. Rest your eyes from time to time

Staring at a monitor or reviewing the patients' records at all times will surely cause you fatigue. To avoid this problem, try closing your eyes during your shift. Sometimes, it is even possible to nap during your breaks in a night shift. Now, this is possible as the night shift is not as busy as the day shift. The patients are mostly asleep, and walk-in patients are sporadic. Please do take note not to oversleep. Having a ten-minute peaceful nap will keep your energy refueled.

5. Converse with your co-workers

If being drowsy and sleepy are already consistent, try starting a good conversation, especially if you both have time to kill. The active and engaging conversation will keep you from dozing off. You can even discuss these tips to staying awake for a long shift.

6. Avoid eating oily foods

According to research in Australia, eating a high-fat diet makes it hard for you to keep your eyes open. If you have noticed that you feel groggy after eating a meal, then you probably have food with high-fat content. Another research that supported this claim is research from UCLA. In their research, they found out that sugary foods and high-fat diets can cause you to feel tired and less motivated. Thus, it would affect your performance during your shift. Instead, try to eat a healthy and balanced diet, especially if you are working for long hours.

You can still consume sugary treats to give you “quick energy,” but once the fogginess and lethargy kick in, you have to take something that will balance these effects. Have some yogurts, fresh vegetables like a fresh carrot with low-fat cream cheese, and drink fresh juice as they have natural sugar called fructose.

7. Eat small portions

Aside from avoiding oily foods that contain high fats, you can also eat small portions of meals throughout your shift. Working at night may cause your digestive pattern to change. This will make it difficult for your system to digest even lighter snacks. So, how can it affect your drowsiness? Well, the longer the sleep-inducing foods remain in your system, the longer you have to feel the fogginess which is the after-effect of the food.

8. Do some exercises

A little bit of exercise won’t hurt, especially if it will do the trick of keeping you awake. Some nurses don’t mind sprinting from the nurse station to the emergency room. Doing such cardio exercise will increase your heart rate; thus, giving you enough adrenaline to stay awake for a long shift. Moreover, this is also a good way to burn some calories.

9. Use essential oils

While lavender oil makes you feel sleepy, other essential oils like peppermint and lemon oil can renew your level of alertness. Furthermore, this is a drug-free and natural alternative. Although, using these essential oils might cause some of your co-nurses to raise their brows because of your choice of fragrance, rubbing these oils on your wrist and neck will keep the drowsiness at bay.

10. Keep cool

Keep your surrounding environment cool to avoid feeling sleepy. Warmer weather or temperature affects your sleep while staying cool keeps you awake.

11. Turn on the lights

Some people can’t sleep if the lights are on. This is actually understandable as studies show that exposure to bright light can reduce the level of sleepiness. If you think you also develop the problem of not being to sleep well if the lights are on, then you can take advantage of that. Increase the intensity or the brightness in your work area by turning on all the nearby lights. This will make the whole place well-lighted.

12. Drink plenty of water

Drinking a lot of water will hydrate your body all throughout your shift. Moreover, this also helps you survive the stress caused by long hours of work. Drinking plenty of water cleanses your body from all the toxins and fats, which can cause you to feel tired and sleepy. If you had some coffee at the late hours of your shift, the more you have to drink water. This will flush out the caffeine in your system so that you won’t have problems sleeping later on.

13. Listen to upbeat music

If you are working at night, the temptation of feeling groggy and sleepy is always an issue that all nurses during the night shift experience. Listening to upbeat music is one way to combat this problem. This type of music will make it hard for you to relax, making your environment a little bit uncomfortable. Also, upbeat music will encourage you to move your body to a rhythm which helps keep your mind busy.

14. Play a game

If you and your co-nurses have done your rounds and are just waiting for your shift to end, then playing a game of chess and other board games can be useful. Playing such games will make your brain work; hence, it is difficult to sleep. Other than board games, you can also do some games that require you to move.

15. As a last resort, there are medications  

If none of the tips that were mentioned above work for you, then you can try taking medicine instead. Armodafinil or Modafinil are two narcolepsy medications that would help you keep your eyes open through the whole shift. These two drugs are actually used in the military to keep soldiers awake. However, you may need these medications to be prescribed; thus, consult a doctor first to check if they are right for you. Sleep is a vital part of our health.

Whether or not you are a nurse working during a night shift, knowing the options that you can take to keep your mind active will surely be helpful. If you have a problem working at the wee hours of the night, then try these tips mentioned above.