How to Handle Working a Night ShiftMarch 8, 2018

Working night shifts is normal for many doctors, nurses, physicians, and other healthcare professionals. However, because the human body is designed to sleep at night, working night shifts can be challenging or create a lot of stress for these professionals.

Sleep deprivation is directly related to the development of physical problems and mental issues such as attention deficit, memory loss, or unwanted mood changes. Studies show that the level of efficiency and alertness significantly drops between the hours of 10pm and 6am. This increases the risk of sleepiness, mistake, or injury on a night shift compared to a morning shift.

About 7 to 9 hours of regular sleep is important for maintaining good physical and mental health. Working a night shift can cause major disruption to the daytime schedule of these professionals and throw their life and health off balance. Here are six ways to handle working a night shift and stay physically and mentally healthy, while reducing the risk of fatigue or mistakes.

1. Get Maximum Sleep During the Day

Sleep, sleep, and more sleep. Make your room as comfortable as you can and try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep, if possible. Put up your “Do Not Disturb” sign if you must. Seriously. Ensure you have a set time to go to sleep and wake up once your night shift ends.

Sleeping at a regular time for a fixed number of hours will keep your body in tune and promote cell growth and repair. A sleep schedule also sets the tone for the rest of your day. You should feel rested and ready to take care of other daily priorities and commitments. And remember, your daytime is your nighttime, so capitalize on sleep on your days off!

2. Eat Healthy and Stay Hydrated

Maximize your output during your night shifts by maintaining a healthy diet. A healthy meal right before work may prevent you from feeling tired, sluggish or sleepy. Lean meats, fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods keep you full without making you lethargic.

You can bring healthy snacks to work to munch on. This can refresh your energy throughout the night. You should especially avoid sugary foods, such as candies, that give you an energy rush followed by an energy crash. Also, drink plenty of water to keep you hydrated and on the move during your shift.

3. Boost Energy and Alertness Before Your Shift

Stock up on energy before the night shift by having an exercise regimen. Whether it is a run on the treadmill, stretches or yoga, your body will be energized.

Endorphin, a natural energy booster, is released especially during cardio and interval training. Exercise also provides mental stimulation that helps keep you alert and focused.

4. Avoid Caffeine

Many professionals use caffeinated beverages, such as coffee, to stay alert during work hours. While coffee may do the trick and give you a temporary boost of energy, it may have long-term effects on your health.

You may experience an energy boost followed by a dip in energy when you drink coffee. Once your energy takes a dive, it may make you feel sleepy, drowsy, anxious or less alert. These conditions can interfere with carrying out your nightly duties.

5. Avoid Alcohol and Tobacco

The use of alcohol during the day or before your night shift may disrupt your sleep pattern and ability to function at work. This may happen because alcohol causes drowsiness and impairs alertness.

Similarly, the use of tobacco may also affect your sleep. Tobacco contains a substance called nicotine which is a stimulant that is known to disrupt sleep.

6. Stay Productive and Resist the Urge to Take Naps

Sleeping on the job may be against the rules, policies or ethics of your job, depending on where you work. If naps are allowed, a 30 to 45-minute power nap can be a great way to re-energize the body.

To handle working a night shift and stay alert, keep yourself occupied with tasks during the slow periods or downtime. If your department has no work to be done, ask to volunteer in another department where work is available – if your employer allows it.

With these tips, you can increase energy, alertness and your overall output during your night shifts. You won’t have to sacrifice your sleep, health, profession, relationships, or other goals and commitments. You will get to do the work you love, earn, and maintain your physical and mental health.

How to handle working a night shift