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Managing Night Shifts

Our top tips for nailing night shifts…

1. Make your home as dark as possible

This includes your bedroom. Sunlight wakes your body up, starting with your brain. 

Don’t send it conflicting messages. Tell your body, “I am going to bed now” by decreasing the amount of stimulation it receives through light. Wear dark sunglasses on your way home to get your body ready.

2. Keep to your dental and medical checkups

Working nights is linked to increased risk for a number of health conditions and even cavities. Make sure that you know where you are at physically and keep healthy.

3. Be prepared for long chats with co-workers!

Sometimes it can be about absolutely nothing. One of my Managers pointed out that some of the most interesting conversations and bonding moments can occur at 4 in the morning.

4. Avoid the Coffee (for the most part)

One of the worst ways to set yourself up for an energy crash later in your shift is by relying too heavily on mugs of coffee to keep yourself awake and alert. 

Drinking a lot of coffee early in your shift may help you feel energized at the start of your shift, but you’ll find yourself lacking only a few hours later, and eventually you won’t be able to stay alert no matter how much coffee you stuff yourself with. 

If you need coffee, try a single cup later on in your shift when you just can’t manage any longer without it, for a last-minute alertness-boosting aid. That way, you won’t feel the coffee crash until at least your shift is over.

5. Be Prepared for the Unexpected

When you regularly work the day shift, you can expect either a steady stream of patients, or at least know the ebbs and flows of typical clinic or hospital day traffic. 

At night, it’s often more difficult to stick to a routine, namely because there can be long stretches where nothing is happening, only to be interrupted by a serious emergency out of nowhere. 

By always being prepared for an unexpected event, you won’t have to brace yourself as hard should you suddenly be needed to help during an emergency at 3:30am.

6. Eat Well (and bring snacks)

You’ll want to try to eat a full-fledged meal before you begin your shift. 

If you sleep right up until the start of your night shift, try eating what would amount to a typical breakfast before you begin work, to help you get your day started on the right note. 

If instead, you sleep immediately after your shift, try eating something more akin to a late lunch or dinner. That way, you’ll help normalise your night shift routine, and keep those hunger pangs at bay as well. 

If you can only manage to eat a small amount prior to work because you’re not accustomed to eating at unusual hours, make sure to bring snacks along with you. 

You may not be hungry right before work, but you may need a pick-me-up during your shift to keep your attention where it needs to be.

7. Take your Time

During the day shift, you may have had to wait in traffic for an hour or so in order to reach work. The night shift has no such traffic qualms, so don’t feel rushed to leave for the hospital or clinic hours before you need to be there. 

The more you treat your night shift like a day shift, the more normalised your routine will become, and you’ll be able to maximise your free time more ably.

8. Be Honest to Yourself and to Others 

Not everyone is cut out for working the night shift and if working long hours overnight is beginning to impede your ability to perform effectively, you need to be honest with yourself and your Manager. 

For the sake of your own well-being, as well as the well-being of your patients, you need to know when you can’t manage something.

9. Stay Safe

If you suddenly realise you are too tired to drive home, DON’T! Get a taxi or phone a friend. We don’t need any more post-nightshift road trauma (ask your Manager and they will all know of past incidents, one more is one too many).

10. Drinking to sleep!

Do NOT use alcohol to help you sleep. It is a sleep inducer but it will disrupt your REM sleep which impacts on how rested and functional you are on waking.

11.  Don’t use your rest time to catch up at home. 

Don’t commit to things during the day because daytime people expect you to – you are living their life in reverse. E.g. Delivery service: “So, you’re on nights, you’ll be home during the day, we can deliver at 3pm.” Me: “So, when you’re on dayshifts, do you plan to wake up at 3am to let random people into your house?” 

Your health and wellbeing is important. Make sure you get enough sleep and look after yourself!


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