It comes as no surprise to many people around the world that working long shifts is a surefire way to tire the body out. There are some professions that, due to their critical nature, often require the person to work long, arduous shifts with no opportunity to get some rest. Nursing — and practicing medicine, in general — is just one of many professions that can tax the person for hours, or even for days, at times. Those who dedicate themselves to this profession — and especially those that work in emergency rooms — must learn to administer their energy in order to avoid excessive fatigue during those long shifts, provide the best care to their patients, and come out alive at the end of it all.
It is understandable that the general impression about these long shifts is usually one of vehemence or apprehension; after all, not everyone has the perseverance or willpower to dedicate their life to the trade. Nevertheless, these shifts, especially the variable ones, actually allow a nurse to familiarize themselves with the job at all times of the day and grant them the experience necessary to excel at the position regardless of the circumstances.
However, the nurses that are assigned to these variable shifts will often have to get creative when it comes to sleep and meal times and learn how to take maximum advantages of those rare periods of downtime. Keep in mind that, when it comes to variable shifts, the nurse’s life literally becomes confined to a week-by-week basis.
Their schedules change weekly, and may often look very erratic; in one week, the nurse may have to work a 12-hour shift starting on Monday night, another 12-hour shift on Wednesday morning, and a final 12-hour shift starting on Friday afternoon. That being said, the nurse’s life outside the ER will literally revolve around their shifts. For these reasons, he or she must become adept at practicing measures to counteract the excessive fatigue and drain that comes from such a hectic lifestyle.
In this article, we will address several tips and tricks that any nurse may use to maximize their free time and to take the edge off those long shifts:
You Are What You Eat
This entry might not come as a surprise to any nurse reading it, but what we eat will definitely play a vital role on the amount of energy we will have at our disposal when it comes to performing daily tasks. Due to their irregular sleep schedule, a nurse’s body might not be able to replace the vitamins and nutrients they used up during the day. For these reasons, it is imperative that they add plenty of vegetables — leafy greens, in particular — in order to replace most of the aforementioned substances. Zucchini, spinach, cucumber, or other green vegetables are huge sources of vitamins and minerals, all of which are important to re-energize the body and ensure top-performance at work.
Similarly, those who constantly tire themselves out at work must avoid foods high in carbohydrates during the day, as these turn into sugar in the digestive tract and can lead to nasty energy crashes right in the middle of the day. For those that don’t know, a carb crash is a colloquial term used to describe those periods of drowsiness and sluggishness experienced after eating a carb-heavy meal. Those who require a constant stream of energy throughout the entire day would do well to avoid meals like pasta, bread, rice, and potatoes during the day, and instead focus on vegetables and ingredients packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Difficulties in waking up after a night’s rest are usually attributed to mild dehydration due to insufficient water intake. The sensation of being hungover after a full night of sleep is one of such cases that can be helped by drinking enough water during the day. If a person finds themselves urinating less than 4 times per day, odds are that they are not drinking enough water, and could stand to increase their intake of the vital fluid. Nevertheless, drinking enough water is one thing, but remembering to do so is another very different matter! Those who have trouble remembering to stay hydrated might benefit from attaching their refueling habits to a routine medical inspection. Time to check up on a patient? Better get a drink of water first!
Make Smart Use of Coffee Breaks
For many individuals, the morning coffee is a ritual that cannot be skipped without experiencing horrible consequences in the energetic department. Nurses that are getting used to a new variable schedule might want to pace themselves when it comes to getting coffee, as excessive dependence on the beverage might cause more harm than good. Because of their hectic schedule, nurses would do well to spend at least one week without drinking coffee, and monitoring the times where they feel that they need a boost of energy. Upon finishing their observations, they can decide with great precision the times in which coffee breaks are most effective in order to reap maximum benefits from these strategic pit stops.
Consider Setting a Sleep Schedule
This might come as a no-brainer, but nurses that work variable shifts must sleep as much as they can after wrapping up so that they can get as much energy back in preparation for the next day of work. Most nurses might prefer holding off on sleep in order to get closer to the next shift, and then finally getting some rest to wake up just before their next shift starts. This is wrong, not only because the body is becoming sleep-deprived, but also because by forcing themselves to remain awake, these individuals might also forfeit their sleep quality. As a general rule of thumb, if the body is asking for sleep, give it sleep. If it’s not asking for sleep, and another shift is coming up soon, consider taking a few power naps just before.
Furthermore, it is imperative that the room in which the person is sleeping in has the right conditions to guarantee an optimal period of recuperative rest. Blackout curtains help to keep the room nice and dark, and a nice air conditioning set at around 65°F are both important aspects that enhance the quality of the person’s sleep.
Variable shifts can be really complicated to accommodate, especially if the individual in question is new to the trade. However, by following a healthy lifestyle at work, and properly managing their downtime after every shift, any nurse will be able to provide 110% performance, without sacrificing life and limb in the process.