Regardless of your role or the industry you’re in, working night shifts are never easy, and all come alongside their own challenges. However, in the healthcare industry, you’re likely to find that, unlike other fields, a night shift most definitely doesn’t mean a boring few hours twiddling your thumbs. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. There will be a host of tasks to tick off your list, medication to administer, and patients to care for, so keeping your eye on the ball will be vital.
The key to staying cool, calm and collected, no matter how stressful the situation may be, is to prepare in advance. Our top tips for dealing with working night shifts promise to help you on your journey, and even better, they couldn’t be easier to factor into your routine!
Our Top Tips On Working Night Shifts
Whether you are approaching your first night shift or have tried a few and struggling to power through, there are many easy ways that you can prep yourself. As the famous Benjamin Franklin quote goes, “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”, so taking time to get yourself ready for your night shift will always work towards your advantage.
Having specialised in healthcare recruitment for many years, we have worked with hundreds of healthcare professionals at all stages of their careers. We have been lucky enough to pick up a host of tips on how to prepare for the night shift and adapt to your new routine, ensuring that you not only stay alert but continue to feel healthy while doing so. Our guide will run through the following:
- What Is A Night Shift Like?
- How To Prepare For A Night Shift
- What To Eat On A Night Shift
- How To Stay Awake On A Night Shift
- How To Sleep After A Night Shift
Let’s start at the beginning: what is the night shift in the healthcare industry like? An overnight shift will involve the same duties as you would have throughout the day, but there are likely to be fewer colleagues on the ward or unit. Typically, you will be working from 8pm to 8am, but this can vary.
You will always start the shift reading through the day shift report, familiarising yourself with the patient’s circumstances, when medication is next due and whether any overnight testing is taking place. It is always recommended to then take the time to meet each of your patients and assess their condition, administering medication along the way where necessary.
The next few hours will then differ based on the unit or ward you are working on. For example, if you work in A&E, you’ll have a constant turnover of patients to examine; however, for those on a ward, you’re likely to care for the same individuals for your entire shift. Regardless of the location or type of nursing, you must stay alert at all times; patients’ health can change, new patients will need treatment, and developments in patient care will need to be considered. This means that you must remain alert at all times to ensure that patients are cared for and their condition is monitored.
Throughout your shift, you’ll need to keep on top of documentation, ensuring that you have filled in progress notes, care plans, etc. We recommend trying to allocate time to this during the hours you feel most alert. It is important to stay alert throughout your shift, so we recommend ensuring you have food or snacks that keep your energy levels high.
As experts in healthcare jobs, we work closely with healthcare workers to ensure they are fully prepared for every stage of their careers. Each person who registers with MLG Healthcare is paired with a dedicated consultant who will always be a phone call away for advice. The recommendations we often give on how to prepare for a night shift include:
1. Tell Your Friends & Family
The hardest thing to adapt to when working night shifts is the unsociable hours. As your loved ones begin to unwind for the evening, this is when your day will start and vice versa. This can become particularly frustrating when living in a busy household, whether this may be with your partner, children or housemates. So, the first thing on your preparation list should be to let your friends and family know about your night shift schedule. By making everyone around you aware that you’ll be operating in a different time zone for a few days, you can ensure that you get the sleep, peace, and quiet you need. They may even be nice enough to save you some dinner and leave it out for you to enjoy when you get home!
As well as telling your friends and family, you would also benefit from rescheduling any parcels that are due to be delivered on the day that you finish your shift. There would be nothing worse than falling into a deep sleep only to be woken up by a delivery driver knocking on your door. If you cannot reschedule your slot, you could always ask a friendly neighbour to sign for your parcel.
2. Pick Up A Reusable Water Bottle
On a night shift, it can be easy to turn to coffee for a pick-me-up, and while one cup is not a problem, it is essential not to rely too much on caffeine. Why? Because caffeine dehydrates the body, which will cause you to feel even more tired. The key to keeping both hydrated and energised is to drink plenty of water, so ahead of your night shift, don’t forget to invest in a reusable water bottle. If, like many of us, you are more likely to use something if it looks great, then treating yourself to a nice bottle will encourage you to drink more water. We suggest choosing a bottle that holds at least 500ml of water and is ideally designed in stainless steel, as this will keep your drink nice and cool – we love the ranges over on Chilly’s!
3. Get Your Uniform Ready
There would be nothing worse than rushing around to get ready for your night shift only to find that you have forgotten to wash, dry or iron your uniform. This will not only put you behind schedule but cause stress, kicking your shift off on the wrong note. So, to ensure that the lead-up to your night shift is as smooth as possible, spend time getting your uniform ready in advance. Many people opt for freshening up and ironing every set of uniforms all at once, ready for the week ahead. Once clean, neatly hang your uniform up so that all you need to do before your shift is grab it out of the wardrobe, and off you go!
While on the topic of your uniform, we would also recommend investing in a pair of comfortable shoes – we promise it’s something you will thank yourself for! Shoes that are durable, supportive and lightweight will help to prevent pain and discomfort when you’re on your feet for many hours at once. Crocs are often a popular choice amongst healthcare staff as they are super comfortable as well as slip-resistant. You can find more highly reviewed options on mybest.
By now, you’ve probably noticed a pattern in how to prepare for your night shift, and it’s all about organisation. The more tedious tasks that you can get out of the way in advance, the more likely it will be that you can start your night shift feeling fresh and ready to take on any situation you may be faced with.
4. Give Your Home A Quick Tidy
After a night shift, the only thing on your mind will be jumping into bed, so the last thing you want to be faced with is a messy home, whether this may be piles of clothes on the bed or dishes in the sink. To ensure that you can thoroughly relax once you get home, try to give yourself an extra 15 minutes before leaving for your shift to give your home a quick tidy. Once complete, if you still have a spare few minutes, why not prepare a post-shift snack and pop it in the fridge or lay out comfy clothes that you can change straight into when you get home?
5. Be Sure To Fit In “Me Time”
Last but most definitely not least, when working night shifts, don’t forget to fit in some “me” time. Our experts in nursing positions understand that it can be so easy to fall into the routine of worrying about what your shift may bring before you even get into the ward, meaning that work can quickly take over your free time. So, to help maintain a good work-life balance, ensuring that you put some time aside for something that you thoroughly enjoy will be vital. Whether it may be soaking in a warm bubble bath with a book or an hour workout at the gym, always keep in mind that caring for yourself is just as important as caring for your patients. For more tips on how to achieve a work-life balance as a nurse, take a look at our previous article!
Along with taking the time to enjoy the things that help you to unwind, don’t forget to keep an eye on your own health. It can be beneficial to invest in a health and fitness tracker, such as a Fitbit or an Apple Watch. These devices will accurately track your sleep, monitor your heart rate and calculate the number of steps you’ve taken or floors you’ve climbed. Using the official Fitbit app, you can also add your calorie intake for that day and analyse your sleep stages. This will help you ensure that you are eating and sleeping enough to keep your body healthy and energised.
Several times a year, it may also be worth booking yourself in for a health assessment. Bupa offers this service, which is made up of a set of tests and examinations that will give you an overview of your current health. Their website states that, on average, 60% of people who’d invested in a health assessment consequently felt better able to deal with stress afterwards. It also states that 55% of those people also improved their sleep following the test. This could be a worthwhile investment to benefit both your mental and physical health.
Keeping yourself energised is all about fuelling your body with nutrients and goodness, which is only possible if you are eating the right foods. During a night shift, it can be so easy to reach for comfort foods or sugary snacks from the vending machine for a quick boost. But the problem is just that; they give you short-term energy, meaning that in an hour, you will be back to square one – sleepy, hungry and most likely agitated. A far better option would be to get yourself organised and put together a meal prep plan. There are many tasty meal and night shift snack ideas, so this couldn’t be more straightforward. If you can prep food for the whole week at once, then perfect, but do not worry if not; there is no harm in putting together one meal at a time for the following day.
When preparing meals and snacks for your night shift, the key is to avoid meals that will make you feel heavy and sluggish, such as pasta or burgers. Instead, opt for fresh foods which are not only healthy but will also benefit your energy levels. If you are someone who prefers a more hearty meal, then a homemade soup is an excellent route as you can make batches at once, which will last you the next few days. For something lighter, on the other hand, raw vegetables with hummus, salads and wraps are all delicious choices. Simply prep your meals, pop them in a reusable tub, and you’re ready for your shift!
In terms of snacks, you most definitely will not be short of ideas, and you’ll be pleased to know that we’re not going to say no to treats. Fruit and nut bars are always a keen choice, along with apple slices dipped in peanut butter and popcorn. Take a look at Women’s Health for 30 healthy but tasty snack ideas – and even better, they’re all under £2.50!
When your body is used to a sleeping routine, for example, from 11pm to 7am, it can be tricky to adapt to your new schedule and switch to the opposite. This means that if you struggle to stay awake during your night shift, try to slowly ease yourself into the routine a few days before. Instead of sticking to your usual 11pm bedtime, stay up a few extra hours, then sleep in for longer, which will help to shift your sleeping pattern. If you can do this for a couple of days before your night shift, you can reduce fatigue and tiredness throughout your shift.
In some instances, during busier periods, you may find that you have to switch from a day to night shift with as little as a day in between. This lack of time will make it super tricky to adapt your routine, so there will be nothing wrong with taking a nap during the day a few hours before you’re due to start. Everyone’s body is different, and what may work for one nurse may not work for the other, so experiment with different sleeping patterns to find those that keep your brain alert and body healthy.
While it may seem obvious before any shift on the ward, now more than ever, a good night’s sleep is essential. Not only will a night shift impact your sleeping pattern the day of the shift, but you are also likely to find it tricky to get into a routine for a few days after. This means that you may see yourself relying on that one deep sleep to see you through the next couple of days.
With this in mind, we know it can be super tricky to force yourself into a deep sleep, especially when you’re not particularly tired, so investing in items that will help you drift off will always prove beneficial. Blackout curtains or blinds will be your best friend as they’ll allow you to enjoy a good sleep, even during the day. Most healthcare workers also pick themselves up an eye mask and earplugs, which are particularly useful if you share your home with others who do not work overnight. Lastly, don’t forget to skip the caffeine a few hours before you’re planning to go to sleep; otherwise, you’ll definitely find it hard to dose off!
Follow These Tips For Night Shift To Help Stay Cool, Calm & Collected
When it comes to tackling a night shift, you’ve probably now guessed that preparation and organisation are key. Whether it may be putting together tasty snacks or hanging your uniform up ready to grab while you get ready, you’ll always be grateful for the extra few minutes you spent getting prepped for your shift.
If night shifts are something that you are yet to experience but you are interested in, then our specialists in nursing jobs would always be more than happy to help. We have a host of healthcare jobs available in an array of roles so please do not hesitate to contact us to get started!