December 23, 2017

Night Shift Transition | Night Shift Sleeping Tips

So, you want to work nights, huh? Or did you not have a choice? Either way, welcome to the dark side! Oh, it's going to be an adventure. The night shift is slap-full with people who help each other and make it work regardless of resources, as nights are known for being understaffed or undersupplied. Don't let that scare you though. I worked day shift for 3 years, and nights now for 2 years. And my nursing skills have been improved working evenings with a skeleton crew. Unlike dayshift, management and ancillary staff are few and far between on nights. I've experienced this in private and government sector nursing, full-time and PRN nursing. Regardless of format, nights tend to run the same. The smallest amount of support necessary to provide safe care. You must be intentional in your actions and plan your time accordingly. As you are it, you are the only person most of the time. I love nights, and if you are transitioning or need help sleeping, I hope you find these tips helpful.


Often, I arrive home after a long shift, and I'm not tried. I'm mentally and physically exhausted, but I can't enter sleep zone and stop my mind from wandering. There I am, relaxed, calm, and ready for bed, but I'm stuck staring at the ceiling fan, thinking of what I'm going to make for dinner that night. It's as if my brain doesn't want to sleep. I mean, the world is up. Ducks are quacking, birds are yelling, lawn mowers are running, kids are waiting for their buses and playing... the world is up, and you are trying not to be. So, you have to "get tired." It's easier said than done. You must put yourself in the right circumstances to rest. Take a bath. I'm talking bubbles and the whole shebang. Decompress and process your feelings for the day, hell the week. The goal is to get you in the right mindset to rest. You must rest your mind to rest your body.

After your mind has been put at ease, it's time to set the mood. Head over to one of those big box stores or Amazon and get yourself some blackout sheets and eye covers. I can sleep with the blinds up and sun right on my face, but not everyone can sleep in that setting. If you're sensitive to light, you might want to darken your room using those items. Or get yourself a sound machine to drown out the hustle and bustle of the world. When sleeping in the daytime, the world is working against you, and you must create nighttime during the day. Not everyone will need supplies to sleep, but I've learned that if you want true sleep - I'm talking dream, drolling, lovely rest - you're going to have to create the proper setting for it to happen. It doesn't happen automatically for most people. Oh, and don't consume caffeinated drinks or coffee hours before getting off work. My cut off is usually 3AM. This will obviously make sleep difficult.


Like I stated before, sleeping doesn't just happen. You must plan for it. And planning begins with your work schedule. I personally work my shifts in a row (Friday-Sunday evenings) so I can go back to my regular sleeping schedule with my family on my days off. It's all about your lifestyle and what you are trying to accomplish. My husband works during the day, and my son goes to school during the day also. I have to flip my sleeping habits when I'm off to be with my family and function. Plus, I can't do the one-on (working), one-off (not working) schedule. My body can't safely flip-flop in that fashion. I wouldn't get any sleep and would be miserable the entire time. If you have a schedule like this, try your hardest to get at least two days off. Your body needs to recharge and rest if you are flip-flopping your sleeping routine from day to night. We all know what we can handle and what our family needs. I perform all my shifts in a row to have a longer time off with the least amount of flipping schedule-wise. If you can't do your shifts in a row, just be aware of what your body needs and how your work schedule will subsequently affect your sleeping quality. I get it, not everyone can work their shifts in a row. But, just keep in mind the impact poor quality sleep can have and make quality sleep a priority in your life.


Finally, if nothing else seems to work, it's time to exercise. For some reason, if the other methods aren't working, you going to have to cause sleepiness in another way. When I get home and can't sleep, working out always helps me meet my sleep destination. The exhaustion triggers something in you, and deep sleep is achieved easier, in my opinion. Plus, it’s a healthy habit in general. Exercise will allow you the time to process any feelings that linger from work. It's a twofer, exercise provides the physical and mind-clarifying processes you are looking for. I indoor cycle 2 to 3 times per week using my Peloton cycle (#nacolecycle), usually on days I can't sleep. And, on those days, I sleep deep. I'm talking, you wake up and don't know what day it is or who you are sleep. It's pretty glorious. I wake up refreshed and ready for my shift. I know, it sounds insane, but it works each and every time. I know it seems dramatic, but I've been that person without sleep at work, doing a 12-hour shift. It's miserable, and you feel each minute you're up. It sucks big time.

Now, Go Sleep

The three top reasons people can't adapt to the night shift, in my opinion, are due to daytime dysfunction (sunshine and the world being active), a conflicting work schedule, and the inability to rest one's mind. Yes, you make more money working the night shift, but you must be safe and effective in your nursing role. Sleeplessness will cause you problems in the short and long term. Find a sleep routine or tools what will help you sleep. It's well worth the investment and time. Night shift is doable and can be an excellent shift to work. I love it, but I also sleep 8 to 12 hours on the days I need to. I might catnap some days, but I need 12 hours at certain times to reset and recuperate. You must be able to enter rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and not just catnap. Your body knows the difference, and you will feel the difference. During REM sleep, your brain and body are energized, and dreaming occurs. REM is thought to be involved in the process of storing memories, learning, and balancing your mood. Sleep is essential, and you're going to fall apart without getting yourself a sleep regimen that works for you and your needs.

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