14 Health Tips For Nurses Working in Night Shifts

14 Health Tips For Nurses Working in Night ShiftsAdjusting one’s sleep-wake schedule to adapt to the night shift is a challenging task. Many nurses around the world try to stay awake for at least 24 hours in order to adjust to working on the night shift. However, as far as strategies go, this one is the least effective for adapting one’s internal circadian clocks to a nighttime schedule. How can nurses effectively adapt to the night shift and train their bodies to sleep during the night and perform at full productivity?

The Public Library of Science One scientific journal published the results of a study involving 400 nurse participants from the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The study details that a nurse’s individual circadian clock genes have a clear impact on his or her ability to adapt to night shifts. Circadian misalignment occurs when a person’s sleep-wake patterns are out of sync with their biological clocks. Circadian misalignment is associated with increased risks of developing a host of disorders and diseases including metabolic, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, mental disorders and cancer.

The way that nursing shifts are scheduled today makes nursing professionals very susceptible to circadian misalignment. Hospital nurses work 12-hour straight shifts, taking care of inpatients. Nurses in some hospitals work a schedule that involves three days on night shift followed by a couple days break, which is followed by 3 days on day shift. As such, their sleep patterns are broken frequently as twice a week.

Tips To Ensure Health While Working Night Shifts

Here are a few tips to ensure that your health is not badly affected by your frequently shifting circadian rhythms when you adapt to night shifts:

1. Go to bed at end of shift: Maintain a sleep ritual that involves going to bed as soon as you return from work in the morning. Leave all your chores, errands, and scheduling tasks for later when your sleep quota is fulfilled and you can devote your full attention to other tasks. When you come home from work, relax for some time, listen to music and then get into bed immediately.
2. Draw the shades: Keep your room as dark as possible when you go to sleep in the day. A dark room simulates the effect of night and makes your mind believe that it’s night, and your mind will automatically relax and help you sleep naturally. Use blinds, dark curtains and even a sleep mask, if that’ll help you get the feeling that it’s night and not day.
3. Avoid exposure to sunlight: After you return home in the morning, avoid too much exposure to sun. when your body is exposed to sunlight, it wakes up and the natural circadian rhythms put sleep off, since it’s day.
4. Soundproof your room: This might seem a little extreme to you but it works. One of the reasons that the body perks up during the day is the sounds of daytime. Kids running about getting ready for school, vehicles on the street, people’s voices and constant movement will only make your body delay its sleep time. This delay affects your sleep quality, since your mind will be half-alert, making you wake up now and then. Alternatively, you can use a good set of earplugs to keep the sound away.
5. Reduce distractions: Turn your cell phone off, and unplug your phone. Talk to your family members and let them know your need for sleep during the day. Don’t let your pet sleep in your room if you have one. They tend to work on a different sleep-wake rhythm and will not realize that they’re not supposed to wake you. Ensure that no one disturbs you unless it’s an emergency.
6. Don’t use sleep aids: Sleeping pills will leave you feeling drained and stressed. To ensure a good night’s sleep, have a glass of port or wine before you sleep. It will help relax you and facilitate good sleep. Or, you can try a glass of warm milk after a nice hot bath, if you have the time. A sleeping pill now and then might work, but your body can become dependent on them in the longer run. Plus, sleeping pills won’t help your body clock to adjust.
7. Avoid drinking coffee: A cup of the good ole Joe might be just the ticket to keep you awake during your shift, but it can keep your body alert and on caffeinated for a long time. if you must drink coffee during your night shift, drink it at least 4 hours before bedtime to ensure the caffeine passes out of your body.
8. Adjust your mealtime routines: Trying to stay on top of your nutrition is hard when your schedule is backwards to your body’s natural rhythm. You have to ensure that you still get a nourishing diet by adjusting your meal routine around your schedule. Whatever be the situation, do not skip meals. Even if you are very hungry, stay away from those vending machines, fast food outlets and their empty calories. Plan ahead, and bring a healthy meal with you to work.
9. Eat small meals: Eat small meals throughout your shift so that you get the energy you want. A heavy meal will overload your digestive system, causing drowsiness. Fighting sleep during the night shift is challenging enough without adding to it.
10. Make your last meal the smallest: Your last meal just before you break your shift must be the lightest. Eating a heavy meal at the end of your workday will ensure that the meal sits heavy in your belly, keeping you from sleeping. Apart from that, all those extra calories will only be stored in your body as fat while you sleep.
11. Keep yourself hydrated: Drink lots of water from the beginning of your shift until the end. Staying awake during the night becomes difficult if compounded by dehydration and the resultant cramps and headaches.
12. Eat nutritionally sensible meals: Carry at least two meals from home, each comprising of complex carbohydrates such as wheat, rye or millet bread, pasta, brown or black rice and so on, along with proteins from meat, lean fish and other food items. Complex carbohydrates will keep you satiated for long and release a steady stream of energy into your body. The protein will keep your muscles working well through the night.
13. Pretend it’s daytime: Time your meals and activities to match your workday. Have a hearty breakfast at the beginning of your shift, a good lunch in the middle and a light dinner towards the end, just as you would during your day.
14. Exercise: Not enough can be said about the goodness of a good workout. Do your workout before going to work, not when you get home, as this will disturb your sleep. Use the stairs at work, park your car at a distance and walk to your workplace, and try to get in as much physical activity as possible during your shift.

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