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Night Shift Nursing: 5 Effective Sleep Tips


Night Shift Nursing: 5 Effective Sleep Tips

By Erin Wallace, contributor

If you’re a night owl, night shift nursing might seem like a dream. You get to work when you feel most productive and sleep until your next shift begins. For others, night shift nursing might require a significant change in lifestyle, routines and eating habits, requiring extra effort to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Whether you’re a veteran night shift nurse or new to the job, learn five effective sleep tips for night shift nursing.

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5 Ways to Increase Your Rest as a Night Shift Nurse

1. Create an environment conducive to restful sleep

Because sleeping during the day goes against your body’s natural circadian rhythm, it’s important for those in the night shift nursing profession to create a bedroom environment that encourages long, restful sleeps even while the sun is shining and the rest of the world is awake.

  • Invest in a white noise machine or box fan to help block sounds from outside traffic or to drown out activity coming from those who may be home while you’re sleeping
  • Hang curtains designed for light blocking to keep the room dark
  • Set aside at least 7-9 hours of solid, uninterrupted sleep every 24 hours to maintain good health
  • Stress the importance of your rest period to your friends and family to reduce the risk that your sleep is interrupted

2. Use caffeinated products wisely

While drinking coffee, tea or other caffeinated beverages can be beneficial to help you stay awake during your shift, consuming too much caffeine can have adverse effects on your ability to fall asleep effectively once you’ve returned home. Avoid caffeine at least four hours before you plan to sleep, or it might be difficult to rest during your scheduled time. 

Former ER nurse, Jessica Goodwin, says she avoided soda or coffee at the end of her shift and after. "I switched to flavored seltzer water, which makes me feel like I’m getting something refreshing without any caffeine or sugar."

3. During your shift, take advantage of scheduled breaks

Many hospitals allow night shift nurses to nap during scheduled breaks for brief periods of time. Take advantage of these opportunities to help keep your energy levels up.

Night shift nurse Kristin W. told the Chamberlain University’s Nursing Program blog that she takes a 15-minute power nap prior to the scheduled start of her shift. “I go in the break room and set the alarm on my phone for 15 minutes. Having that little bit of respite really seems to give me the extra energy I need to get through the rest of the shift.”

Even if you’re not able to nap, taking breaks during a night shift is important to help you stay alert.

4. Maintain good nutrition and consistent hydration

Staying well-fed and drinking plenty of water during your shift can help you avoid hitting energy slumps. Eating a full meal (equivalent to eating breakfast for day shift workers) before your shift helps you avoid gastrointestinal problems such as nausea or bloating as well as issues associated with blood sugar crashes. Healthy food also provides the nutrition and energy you need to work a full shift.

Keeping a water bottle on hand at all times helps you stay awake throughout your shift. Pack nutritious snacks that are high in protein and low in fat to help provide a necessary pick-me-up. Goodwin says her go-to night shift snacks included almonds, low-fat string cheese and a couple chocolate covered pretzels.

5. Be careful about your sleep schedule on your days off

One of the benefits to night shift nursing is working fewer days per week than most professionals, since shifts can be up to 12 hours each. However, this also means a backwards sleep schedule may be more difficult to maintain on your days off.

Many nurses try to maintain their night shift sleeping schedule when they’re not working: typically, this involves staying up until 3 or 4am and going to bed and sleeping in until 11am or 12pm.

What not to do? Deprive yourself of sleep for up to 12 hours before the start of your shift. A study at Vanderbilt University found that some night nurses were depriving themselves of sleep for up to 12 hours before a long shift to adapt to the night shift schedule. 

The study demonstrated that this strategy is ineffective and can eventually lead to long-term health problems, including cardiovascular, metabolic and gastrointestinal disorders. A more common approach was to sleep in late the morning prior to a scheduled shift or take a nap before going into work.

Find a modified sleep schedule that works for you and stick to it. For some RNs in night shift nursing, taking a nap for a few hours prior to the start of a shift, and then going to bed as soon as they get home for 6-7 hours is effective. Others prefer to sleep in shorter four-hour spurts after a shift is complete.

When RNs in night shift nursing practice these sleep tips, they can help ensure they’re staying alert and providing the best care they can to their patients, who depend on professionals who are alert and ready to react to any situation.

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