Nights: You either loathe them or love them. But as a new nurse you usually don’t get to choose your ideal shift. Nights are often all that’s available. And either you adjust, or you don’t.
Melissa Granger, an oncology nurse at Elmhurst Memorial Hospital in Elmhurst, Illinois, was “on the brink of depression” because she couldn’t handle nights when she first graduated.
But Christy James, a labor and delivery nurse at Evanston Hospital in Evanston, Illinois, and mother of two, found that nights fit her lifestyle. In fact, she says, “I like the atmosphere better.”
Whether you dig or curse nights, how do you survive?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, during the night, your body feels like it should be sleeping. Boost your energy by exercising throughout your shift. Climb some stairs or take a walk.
Eating three healthy meals also helps keep your energy up. You’ll hit your lowest period around 4 am, so plan accordingly.
Granger felt best when she ate dinner at 3 am and a snack at 4 am. While many night nurses resort to caffeine, remember it takes half an hour to react in your system. And if you consume it five hours before you plan to sleep, it can hinder your rest.
Napping is also an excellent way to stay alert, even if you only have 20 minutes. You may feel groggy afterwards, but this usually passes within 15 minutes. Afterwards you should be energized and in a better mood.
Managing Your Personal Life
Sleeping in the day while everyone else is up isn’t easy to adjust to. But there are ways to make this opposite life work for you.
For example, most nurses work four nights a week, at most, so daytime events are still possible. Granted, you often miss out on social activities. This is why communication with your friends and family is important. With their help, you can schedule activities that fit your schedule.
Ease marital tension by scheduling specific, routine times to spend together. With a little teamwork, this is possible, though not necessarily easy. Granger, a newlywed when she worked the nightshift, says, “You’re sleeping and eating at different times. It’s hard to connect.” However, James found that prioritizing a specific meal—breakfast—with her husband helped her relationship.
It’s always important to remember that a lack of sleep can make you impatient, irritable, anxious, and depressed. Getting the needed 7-9 hours of sleep will help you stay positively engaged in the relationships that matter most.
The Sleep You Need
We all have an internal, natural cycle that regulates our body functions and revolves around daylight—our circadian clock. “Some people have real trouble sleeping during the day, even though they’ve been up all night,” says James. Granger was definitely one of those people. “My body never got used to it,” she recalls.
If this is the case, the National Sleep Foundation recommends setting a schedule and sticking to it, even on days off. Before you go to bed, take a warm bath or lower the room temperature. Avoid stressful activities that activate your brain, such as reading a suspenseful novel.
Then, fool your body. Darken your room and even wear sunglasses when returning from work to avoid the morning sunlight. Create some white noise to hush daytime clatter. You can also eat a light snack before bed so you won’t be too hungry or too full to sleep.
Most of all, make sure your family and friends know your situation so they don’t wake you up. And go ahead and unplug that phone . . . just in case they forget.
For more information on surviving the night shift, go to The National Sleep Foundation.