6 tips on surviving as a night shift nurse

There has been a sharp rise in the numbers of nurses taking naps during long night shifts. NHS budget cuts have seen night shift nurses' workloads become even more stretched and scrutinised than ever before resulting in many disciplinary actions being brought against NHS night shift staff.  

Only last month a damning report by the Health Service Ombudsman warned that the NHS was failing to treat those in old age with ‘care, dignity and respect’, citing cases of patients left in soiled clothes held up by paper clips. These failings were highlighted again when a review by the Care Quality Commission watchdog found elderly patients with dementia were being locked in rooms overnight in hospitals and care homes so they didn’t wander. 

Learning how to adapt to a different sleep schedule is one of the hardest obstacles that a night shift nurse must overcome. Not only for your own physical and mental wellbeing but also for the quality of care of your patients. Search Medical are here to help you though as we reveal the top six tips on how to survive as a night shift nurse. 

1. Plan your work ahead

With night shifts generally calmer than the even more hectic day shift, nurses must find constructive ways to keep busy during lulls in activity. Studies show that people who work the night shift tend to experience the most fatigue and drowsiness around 4 a.m so avoid completing the most tedious or monotonous tasks during that time. The comparatively quieter workload should also encourage you to administer a more intimate level of patient care as there is more one on one time available to spend with both residents and overnighters who are struggling and suffering. 

And before the shift ends, try your best to get extra work done that will aid the incoming day shift staff's transition. Failure to look after the ones who succeed you will create a knock on affect with neither rotation completing the allocated amount of work, eventually leading to your night shift becoming increasingly hectic and out of control. 

 

2. Be active at and outside of work

A healthy and active lifestyle is widely regarding as a way to boost your concentration, energy and positive outlook on day to day activities. Staff who engage in regular exercise outside the hospital environment tend to be able to keep their mind focused on patient care and maintain higher energy levels for longer periods. 

Engaging in short bursts of exercise when feelings of fatigue start to take over can also work as a short term fix. Staying active during breaks or work lulls is an effective way to reboot energy levels. Obviously running around the hospital violates many health & safety policies so recommended activities include; taking brisk walks to the canteen or 'rec' room, climbing sets of stairs and on the spot aerobics. 

 

3. Partner with co-workers

A workload shared is always going to be easier to manage then toiling away on your own. Bonding with co-workers obviously makes the night shift easier to handle on a professional and organisational standpoint. And through a camaraderie developed through the unique environment night shifts bring, your colleagues can help you through stressful situations or emergencies much better than if you were alone. 

 

4. Invest in specialist glasses

Scientists have recently discovered that one of the main causes of night shift NHS workers' sleep deprivation is overexposure to blue light. Without natural exposure to the 'orange light' of the sun during the day, night shift nurses are oversensitive to natural and artificial blue light - emitted by computers and other electronic devises. This causes a suppression of melatonin secretions, a hormone that influences circadian rhythms. 

To try and combat this scientists have advocated a unique night shift tip, wearing medically advised 'Blue Light Blocking Glasses' available to purchase for up £70 on most retail sites. A study by scientists at Quebec’s Université Laval found nightshift workers using blue-light blocking glasses at or near the end of their overnight shifts for a month increased both the amount and efficiency of their sleep. For workers who consistently work the graveyard shift, making this expenditure could be vital for their long term professional and personal night shift survival. 

 

5. Use Caffeine wisely

As much as the earlier tips for working night shifts will help, inevitably you will have to ingest some caffeine to help you maintain alertness during a shift. Up to three coffee or tea breaks a night is an effective method to counteract the unavoidable drop in energy levels every night shift worker experiences. However, it is important not to overdo caffeinated products - in particular coffee and energy drinks - as excessive consumption can cause both long term health problems and short term issues whilst on call like acute withdrawal and concentration issues. 

 

6. Make sleep a priority after your shift

Professional sportsmen site the warm down as an essential part of their recovery routine after gruelling periods of training. For night shift nurses, the sleep after work needs to be of a high quality and uninterrupted in order to overcome their circadian rhythm variations. Everyone who works in a high workload job needs regular sleep in order to recharge and function efficiently but night shift nurses must prioritise making their home environment as conducive to sleep as possible during daylight hours. If neglected, the resulting extra tiredness can potentially endanger the lives of their patients. 

Make sure that potentially disrupting electronics are switched off, you post notices to make sure deliveries or service calls do not arrive during your favoured sleeping hours and you go to bed at the same time every day to allow your circadian rhythms to adjust. Wearing the blue light blocking glasses mentioned above should also help. If you switch between day and night shift work, ensure your employer grants you an appropriate amount of time to recover before returning to day shift work - the recommended time from the NHS is two full days off. 

 

Search Medical is a specialist in not only sourcing and placing nursing jobs but also guiding our workers through some of the most important issues surrounding the profession. If you have any questions regarding night shift survival or available night shift nurse jobs, please contact a member of the Search Medical team in your nearest England office.

 

 

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