If you’ve never worked the night shift, you really have no idea the physical and mental toll that it takes on your body. Many travel nurses prefer to work the night shift or don’t have an option when it is a highly desired destination. If you are new to working the night shift or are having trouble adjusting, let’s talk about some of the things you can do to help your body adjust.
Sleep. I know, I can almost hear the collective “Duh!” from our readers, but it is true. Just because you are working the night shift and are tempted to maximize every daylight hour on exploring this wonderful travel destination…don’t do it! Find a sleep schedule that works for you. Having spent 13 years working the night shift myself, I always slept right after work, others I knew slept right before work, and I even knew people who slept for 4 hours upon getting out of work and then went back for a nap before the start of their shift. I never found the value in that because I often neglected to get the nap in. The key takeaway is no matter what you do, find a sleep schedule that works for you.
Darkness. The last thing I will say about sleeping is how crucial it is to make your sleeping area as dark as possible. When on an assignment that includes shift work, always pack a set of “black-out room” curtains. You will sleep better if you trick your body into thinking it is night time.
Eat Healthy. Of course, you should try and eat healthy all of the time, but even more so when you are working on the night shift. When your normal rhythms are disrupted, we have a tendency to be irritable and to gain weight. Plus, on later shifts, the cafeteria may not always have the healthiest options available, so it is important to keep your meals under your control. Pack extra fruits and veggies, and use whole grain bread or wraps for your sandwiches. It is helpful to have healthy snacks for those mid-shift cravings. If you are living in a place with a kitchen or at least a kitchenette, while on assignment, cook a healthy meal and divide it up for lunches throughout the week. Water is also an important part of a healthy night shift diet. Since I have never been a fan of plain water, I purchased a few infuser bottles and fill them up with slices of strawberries and citrus for delicious flavored water.
Ginger Lemon Water Recipe for Energy: Steep sliced Ginger Root in hot water for 20 minutes. Pour steeped water into your infuser bottle and put the ginger slices in the infuser. Next, add one sliced lemon and 1 Tbsp. of Organic Honey to the infuser. Chill or add ice (space permitting). Enjoy. Note: You will have enough flavor to refill your water bottle again during your shift.
Keep Moving. If you are on assignment working the night shift, it is important to keep your normal exercise routine in place. Even if you don’t have a gym membership to a national fitness chain, you can still stay active. Whenever possible, try and walk during your shift. The activity will keep your heart rate going and promotes alertness throughout the shift. One of my favorite break activities in the wee hours of the night was walking the stairs. On a break, I enjoyed walking up 6 to 10 flights of stairs, down a few hallways and back down the stairs again. It was even better when I coerced shift mates to join me.
Enjoy the Benefits. We often hear fellow nursing professionals complain about working the night shift, yet, if you look at it from a different perspective, you can find many positives in shift work. There are fewer administrators and executives roaming the halls meaning everyone is a bit more relaxed. Night shift crews definitely have their own routines whether it is a massive run to the coffee shop or brewing caffeinated favorites in the break room, the camaraderie is unmistakable. Another great benefit of working the night shift is that you are joining a team of dedicated, confident nursing professionals. Overnight, when chaos inevitably comes to the unit, everyone knows that there is no cavalry coming anytime soon. Everyone jumps into action, knows their responsibility and does whatever it takes to get the job done. That is a team that everyone wants to be a part of, and you are there to support them.
Another “benefit” of working the night shift is that you will always hear the best stories. Night shift crews have nothing to hide, and there will always be time for a story with too much detail but full of great belly laughs. Enjoy those times, because once the sun comes up and the day shift starts rolling in, the hospital returns to its daytime rhythms and the sleepy-eyed night shift crew slowly makes their way to the exits.
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