All nurses have it rough. Long shifts, emotional and physical trauma, the threat of contracting germs and viruses. Subtract sleep from the equation and an even more dire picture begins to form.
Night nurses have all of the same responsibilities as their day shift counterparts. The only difference? The job takes place when all the rest of the world is sleeping. For some people, it’s a good arrangement. Patients are often sleeping as well, which means the work may be (very) slightly less intensive. Some hospitals also give night nurses a modest pay bump, further sweetening the pot.
Still, it’s a tough gig. If you’re going to be a night nurse, you need to know how to take care of your own health as you manage other people’s.
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Regular Sleep Schedule
For most nurses, the words “regular” and “sleep” don’t have a very strong association. But while a sleep schedule might not seem normal to the general population, it should still be normal, or routine for the person who is living it.
Most people sleep best on a routine and require between 6-8 hours of sleep to maintain optimal function.
Naturally, for the night nurse, this will mean sleeping during the day. Unfortunately, there is a range of reasons that this is often easier said than done. Family and friends, roommates, that pesky thing called the sun, can all make it difficult to maintain a nocturnal sleep schedule.
In fact, most night nurses are not completely vampire-like in their sleep patterns. During the throws of the workweek, they may be strict about sleeping during the day so that they can be alert for their shifts at night.
When they are not working, however, the night nurse may try to adapt more typical sleeping habits, to spend time with friends and family, or shop at stores that aren’t only open in the middle of the night.
These concessions, though not necessarily conducive to the best sleeping, of course, have their own health benefits. However, it remains important that the night nurse develops a routine that maximizes the amount of sleep they get, both on workdays, and during their time off.
Don’t Go Overboard on the Caffeine
Coffee isn’t quite the bad guy it has been made to be in the past. While the health benefits of caffeine have been historically questioned, it remains true that a moderate caffeine intake is not only fine but possibly beneficial to your health.
Emphasis on the word “moderate.” It’s easy to go overboard when you’re sleep-deprived. The night nurse is best served in the long run to resist this temptation. Why? For one thing, too much caffeine can actually hinder performance, inspiring jitters and anxiety—neither of which are good as you perform a job that naturally tests the nerves.
Caffeine is also disruptive to the sleep cycle. It accumulates in your system, meaning that while one cup at the beginning of a shift might not impact sleep, several cups dispersed throughout the evening very well might.
By being moderate and sensible, caffeine can be a vital ally to the night nurse.
Eat Healthy Foods
Nurses, no matter when they keep their hours have very difficult and demanding shifts. Even when everything is going well, they often spend many hours on their feet, with little opportunity for a proper break. When things aren’t going well that “little opportunity” vanishes entirely.
It’s a job that naturally seems to direct one towards snacking. Unfortunately, most pre-packaged foods are notoriously unhealthy. However, with good meal planning, nurses can make sure that they enjoy a nutritionally balanced diet that will help see them through their long shifts. Not only will this have a positive impact on their overall health, but it may also make the job itself a little easier.
Good nutrition is linked with more energy, better sleep, and better focus. All things nurses need to do their difficult jobs.
Seek Strategic Scheduling
Some nurses have a good amount of control over their schedules. In these situations, it’s a good idea to craft a schedule most conducive to health and wellness. For example, a night nurse may wish to make sure that their shifts take place on consecutive days.
Even though three twelve-hour shifts in a row can be very draining, for the night nurse, they may help to regulate their sleeping schedule so that they can spend the majority of the week not being nocturnal.
Unfortunately, not everyone will be able to make their own schedules. Still, it’s at least a good idea for night nurses to have a discussion with their scheduling supervisor about a routine that is most conducive to their health.