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How to Survive Overnights as a Healthcare Worker

August 11, 2022

Overnight shifts are common for those in the health field. Physicians, nurses, and allied health professionals might find themselves scheduled for the night shift while working in hospitals and long-term care facilities. You don’t have to be a night owl to succeed in this type of work environment. With a little practice, you can get used to waking up in the evening and working all through the night. Here are some tips that can help you remain productive and healthy as an overnight worker. 

Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene refers to the sleep practices you keep. You want to ensure your sleep hygiene is conducive to a good night’s sleep. That means going to bed and getting up at the same time, if possible, including on weekends. Darken your room with blackout curtains and make sure your sleep environment is quiet and relaxing. Keep the temperature comfortable and remove electronic devices such as computers, smartphones, and televisions. 

Other tips for improving sleep hygiene include:

  • Stopping caffeine at least 5 to 6 hours before bed.
  • Avoid screen time a few hours before you go to sleep.
  • Staying away from large meals and alcohol before bedtime. 
  • If you live in a particularly noisy neighborhood, consider sleeping with an eye mask and earplugs. 

Get Plenty of Sleep 

In addition to ensuring your sleep environment is on point, strive to clock the necessary sleep hours. Health experts at the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and National Sleep Foundation recommend that we all receive between 7 to 9 hours of sleep every day. Lose even one hour of sleep and you could pay for it on the night shift with drowsiness and low levels of cognition. Depending on your job roles, simple mistakes caused by sleep deprivation could have significant consequences. 

Group Night Shifts Together 

Working a string of night shifts in a row is superior to staggering your night shifts between regular work hours. Clustering the shifts together gets your body used to the schedule instead of having to constantly adapt to new hours, which can wreak havoc on your mind and body. Studies show that health workers who rotate their shifts report reduced quality of sleep, lowered quantity of sleep, and lower job satisfaction, not to mention constant fatigue. Those health workers are also more susceptible to the development of cardiovascular and psychological issues. 

If grouping your night shifts together isn’t practical, try the following to return to a more normal schedule after your last overnight shift. 

  • The moment you get off work, try going to sleep in the morning. 
  • Strive to wake in the afternoon and remain active until you retire at a normal bedtime hour. 
  • Supplement your sleep with power naps over the next few days. 
  • On your final evening, stay up as late as you can, sleep in, and take a long nap prior to your next shift.

Don’t Neglect Sunlight

Working the night shift can make you feel like a vampire, where you sleep all day and are only active at night. Because you are usually asleep when the sun is shining, you are likely deficient in vitamin D. Our bodies need vitamin D to absorb calcium, which is responsible for building strong and healthy bones. 

Sunlight is a major source of vitamin D. In addition to helping to keep us strong and healthy, sunlight is responsible for resetting your body clock. 

A good habit to get into is to get out in the sunlight immediately after waking from your night shift. The best move is to exercise outside in the sun, which works your muscles and gives you the necessary vitamin D to stay healthy. 

Exercise (Even When Your Motivation Wanes)

Working out for at least 30 minutes per day for 150 minutes total per week is recommended by the American Heart Foundation. Moderate-intensity aerobic activity combined with resistance training can keep your body in shape and give you the stamina to keep up with the most grueling overnight shift.

The last thing you probably want to do is move your body when you get off work. To keep yourself accountable, keep to the following fitness habits.

Keep a workout diary to track your exercises and progress.

Exercise first thing in the morning upon waking to start your day off on the right foot.

Put your activewear by the door to limit excuses. 

Mix up your workouts with a handful of exercises so you never grow bored. Examples include yoga, band resistance training, running, walking, swimming, jump roping, and circuit training.

Keep Mentally Healthy

Working a collection of night shifts can put you into a routine of eating, working, and sleeping, with little social interaction in between. This type of lifestyle can take its toll on your mental well-being. This is a big reason why night shift workers are highly susceptible to anxiety and depression, which in turn can lead to sleep disturbances, fatigue, and a diminished quality of life. 

To keep your mental state in optimal condition, consider the following steps.

  • Organize a social event before or after one of your night shifts.
  • When hanging with friends or family, stay off your phone and remain present.
  • Connect physically with other people. Hug someone you love or get a massage if you don’t have the benefit of intimacy with a significant other. 
  • Pursue activities that make you happy during your time off instead of sitting home all day in front of the TV.
  • Join a gym to get some social time in while working up a sweat. 

Another way to keep your mental game sharp is to treat yourself to an extended soak in the tub following your overnight shifts.

  • Take a bath after your night shift to wind down, improve blood flow, and control blood sugar. 
  • Use Epsom salts in your bath to exfoliate and treat muscle inflammation. 
  • Dim the lights and use candles during bath time to prepare your hormones for rest. 
  • Drop lavender oil in your bath or use a diffuser, which can improve sleep quality.

Go Easy on the Caffeine 

Caffeine has many benefits, and most of us rely on caffeine after waking to give us enough energy to start the day. Drinking coffee and turning to other caffeine sources can improve mood, memory, and physical performance. There is nothing wrong with caffeine, as long as you stop consuming it before becoming jittery. 

You are okay to drink coffee before and during your shifts. You should try to avoid caffeine as your shift nears its end, as too much can disturb your sleep. In addition to sleep deprivation, you risk feeling higher amounts of stress and raising your blood sugar to dangerous levels if you consume too much caffeine through the night. 

Reduce Stress

Working overnights can raise your stress levels, especially in the beginning as your body grows used to your new schedule. It is important that you try to remain even keel during this time by reconnecting with yourself and your feelings. Self-care practices such as journaling and meditation can help you think more positively as you get accustomed to being an overnight health worker. 

Stay Hydrated 

Water is essential for life and health. Health experts recommend that you drink between 125 ounces for men and 91 ounces for women of water each day. 

If drinking that much water sounds tough, make it easy on yourself by:

  • Keep a water bottle handy so that you can take sips between work tasks. 
  • Add a wedge of lime or lemon to your water bottle.
  • Drinking herbal tea, which is a healthy way to consume more water throughout the day.

Eat Healthy 

Food is fuel but only the right types of food choices will give you enough energy to get through a full overnight shift. Stay away from sugar-laden snacks and those loaded with trans fats. While tasty treats may fill you up and give you energy in the short term, long-term you face a disastrous crash. 

Instead of hitting up the vending machine at work, consider packing your own snacks and meals. Fill a lunch bag with salads, fruits, vegetables, and varieties of trail mixes. Choose sandwiches with healthy lean meats and condiments, which will keep you full of energy and in a good mood from the beginning of your shift to the time when you clock out.

Have a Talk with Your Family About Your Schedule

If you live with others, such as a significant other and children, ensure everyone is on board with your sleep and work schedule. Post your shift hours on the refrigerator so everyone in the home knows when you’ll be asleep, at work, and awake. If at all possible, do your best to share at least one meal with your family so you can remain connected with those you love, even on work days. 

Search for Overnight Healthcare Jobs 

Working overnights can be lucrative and rewarding. It only takes a little practice and the right habits to make you a powerhouse as you work from dusk till dawn. If you are interested in a healthcare career or you’re looking to switch jobs, ProLink Healthcare Staffing can help you find a job fast. Start your employment search now by taking advantage of our exclusive job listings.

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