Working 12 hour night shifts as a nurse is not an easy thing to do! We work 3 days a week, starting a shift at 7pm and ending at 7:30am. Sometimes shifts are worked back to back and sometimes they are spread out through the week. Night shift is hard on you both mentally and physically…they say, working night shift takes 10 years off your life! Staying awake all night is not “normal” for our minds, bodies or circadian rhythm. Night shift messes up sleeping patterns which can lead to insomnia, emotional instability, mental cloudiness, over sleeping, decreased energy, weight gain or loss, depression, anxiety, vitamin deficiencies and more….all which effect your lifestyle, relationships and overall well-being.
However, for a long time – 10 years – I actually prefered to work night shift! I would rather work all night than wake up at 5:30am to get ready for work. Despite the potential negative effects of staying up all night, I actually see a few benefits to it. I find that I get more sleep between shifts because I go to bed as soon as I get home and wake up with enough time to still do somethings or enjoy the day a little before work. When I’ve worked days I would stay up until 11pm and then wake up at 5:30am, hit snooze a few times and then be rushed to get to work on time, not feeling awake until I had 2 cups of coffee and it was 10am. At my hospital, there is a night shift differential, which pays me more per hour to work night shift. Other pluses of working night shift include: driving to and from work opposite of rush hour traffic, less management around micromanaging, less distraction from ancillary staff and more time to spend at the bedside being present with my patient. I think night shifters are generally easier to get along with and there seems to be more of team effort throughout the night. So, how do I deal with the mental and physical strain of working nights?
First off, I think night shift works for me because I have some inherent traits that allow me to work nights more easily. I was born at 11:55pm and from that moment on I have always been a “night person.” My mom said even as a little girl, I always wanted to stay up late and sleep in late. In high school, I would stay up late, talking on the phone, reading magazines or doing homework. My senior year, I shared a room with my sister and I remember her going to bed much earlier than me because I just wasn’t tired yet. Then in the morning I would find it hard to wake up, pushing snooze 3-4 times before actually finding the energy to get up. In nursing school, I found my most productive time for studying or writing papers was after 11pm. I would often stay up until 2am studying and I wouldn’t even need coffee! I have never called myself a morning person and if I don’t have to, I will not wake up before 10am. I have no trouble staying awake all night at work and I rarely drink coffee during my night shifts. Another trait is that I am a deep sleeper and I am able to sleep at any time. I have never had a problem with insomnia or not being able to stay asleep…once I am asleep, it is often hard to wake me. I can even sleep for 12 hours straight from midnight to noon the night before I start my work stretch. These traits definitely help make working night shift easier, but there is more to it than just being a night person.
I never fight my body’s desire to sleep. I will sleep 7-8 hours between night shifts, usually from 8:30am-4:30pm. I have black out shades in my room to keep it dark during the day as well as a fan for white noise to drown out the sounds from outside. If I have a day off after a shift, I will sleep until I wake up naturally, even if that means “wasting” the day away. Most nurses wake up earlier in an attempt to switch over to a normal schedule and be able to have a full day off. I live more of a night lifestyle as well. My husband works until midnight 4 nights a week so if I am off that night, I will be awake when he gets home. We will stay up for another hour or so together and sleep in together too. Most activities or social events that I have control over planning, I will plan in the afternoon or evening. I do things like go grocery shopping in the evening and clean the house at night. I enjoy this type of lifestyle because like I said before, I am not a morning person.
Don’t get me wrong, I am no vampire! I love the sun, sunshine and being out in nature during the day. Another way I am able to make night shift work for me is that I make sure I get at least 15-30 minutes of sun light between shifts. When I wake up at 4-4:30pm I will enjoy my “morning” cup of coffee outside on the patio in the sunlight. I sit out there with my tortoise and we soak up the sun together so I am sure to get my Vitamin D. Then I spend some time stretching and doing yoga. On my 4 days off each week, I enjoy hiking, yoga, walking at the beach or laying by the pool in order to get enough exercise, sun and fresh air. I take daily multivitamins and make sure that I eat a healthy, balanced diet so that I am getting enough nutrients and vitamins to keep my body healthy. While working nights, I bring a healthy lunch and snacks from home so I am sure to eat healthy at work too. I am not worried about eating at night because my body needs food to create fuel to stay awake, focused and energetic. I also make sure to stay hydrated during my shift by drinking lots of water and herbal tea.
Finally, in order to prevent myself from feeling crazy, due to a wacky sleep schedule, I make sure to express myself. I will either journal about my emotions, express them to my therapist or tell my husband about my night at work. Luckily for me, he works in the medical field too so he totally gets what I am talking about. There was a time where I would be grouchy, overly emotional or acting crazy after working a few nights. My husband had a hard time dealing with this because he knew it was not me. I had to learn to accept those feelings as normal and decided I needed to make sure I always get enough sleep to keep me balanced. Once, I started sleeping more, I started feeling more positive and I was better able to deal with my emotions, feelings and I didn’t feel crazy. We also make sure to plan the same 1-2 nights off, per week, so we can spend quality time together.
Night shift isn’t for everyone but if you find yourself working nights, make sure you take the necessary steps to stay healthy and get enough sleep so you too, will be able to manage it!