Tags: Health & Social Care, health-and-social-care, blog

By Chris Pritchard

If you have difficulty fighting the urge to dose off after a night shift, you are not alone. Evidence shows that individuals who work night shifts may have, on average, 1 to 4 hours less sleep than people who work exclusively during the day. This is due to the distractions, noise, light and routines that happen in the world during daylight hours.

In this blog, I expose the risks involved with sleep deprivation and how care workers who work night shifts can manage their days to avoid sleeping on the job!

The risk of sleep deprivation

Although sleep deprivation doesn’t always result in ‘nodding off’, it can lead to serious consequences - all of which have a serious impact on your ability to do your job: 

  • Impaired Decision Making

  • Slower Reflexes

  • Heightened levels of stress

  • Higher susceptibility to health issues

  • Depression and Mood Swings

  • Diminished attention to detail

Worse still, if you are unable to fight the need for slumber and either involuntarily, or worse, voluntarily, fall asleep on duty then you risk the following:

  • Inability to react to or deal with life or death situations of service users

  • Compromising the security of the service and the safety of service users

  • Missing observations, incidents and care responsibilities (including medications administration) - the action and reporting of which is imperative to care plans.

  • Your own professional reputation, potentially resulting in disciplinary or referral to regulatory bodies.

  • Bringing the organisation you are representing, along with the care industry, into disrepute.

  • Negative reactions from peers, management, service users and their families - Setting poor examples to colleagues.

So what's the long-term solution?

The best advice I can give to avoid sleeping on duty is to ensure you get the sleep your body requires during the day. Although adjusting your sleeping patterns to suit a series of night shifts will initially be a challenge, with a little discipline and organisation you will be able to effectively manage your sleep patterns to suit working during the night. Here are my top tips to help you fit enough sleep into your days in order to avoid nodding off during shift.

1. Work out exactly how much sleep your body needs

Although a wide range of publications and websites will often try to provide a definitive answer for how many hours of sleep one needs to function at an optimal level whilst awake, the reality is that it varies from person to person. It’s also important to remember that staying in bed longer isn’t always effective, and can even make you feel more tired. For this reason, you need to determine how much sleep your body needs in order to make you feel rested, without feeling lethargic.

2. Invest in black curtains, eye masks and a white noise machine

We all resent the roar of traffic or the booming acoustics from the neighbour’s band practice next door when trying to catch a snooze during daylight hours. Add the cold light of day to the equation, and the possibility of getting any sleep at all seems to slip that much further away. Real talk, the world will continue turning regardless of your need for sleep, and you need to adjust to this. Start off by blocking out any harsh light through the use of eye masks or black curtains. Couple these with a white noise machine or some calming meditation music to drown out any disruptive noises.

3. Schedule your sleep times and stick to them

If you have tasks during the day, such as childcare responsibilities, you need to identify where you have a period of at least five to six hours to dedicate to continued sleep, and turn your phone off while you do so -that text can wait! I also recommend that you try to take two to three nights off per week to give yourself the opportunity to have a full night’s sleep.

4. Be consistent, and whatever you do, DON'T try to 'catch up on sleep'!

One mistake that many individuals make after not having a good night’s sleep is trying to catch up on sleep, leaving them more tired than before. “If you give yourself too much sleep opportunity, the pressure to get to sleep dissipates and you will be more easily awoken by your arousal systems,” says Professor at Surrey University’s Sleep Centre Derk-Jan DijkIf, who continues, “If you restrict your time in bed to five or six hours, you will get better quality sleep.”

Still feeling tired?

We are all human and occasionally susceptible to tiredness even when we do get enough sleep, particularly when feeling slightly drained or under the weather. The following tips are also useful and worth remembering if you feel tired: 

  • Regularly get up, stretch, walk briskly, do something that involved a sudden burst of energy

  • Drink Plenty of Water

  • Don’t remain seated when you feel the overwhelming tiredness

  • Sit in an area that is brightly lit

  • Eat healthy food; reducing the carbs and high sugar food- aim for regular small meals rather than one large meal

  • Talk to your co-workers and engage with service users that are awake

  • If you are observing someone that is asleep, read their care plans and write thorough notes

  • Drink caffeine based drinks in moderation- they do help you to stay awake but remember to use it sensibly!

  • Read the policy of the organisation you are working at to determine if they will allow you to sleep during a break in a designated staff area- do not assume this is a given! If you are allowed to leave the premises during a break, make sure you get fresh air or use your vehicle for a short nap (making sure you are back at work in good time!)

Finally… if you continue to struggle to stay awake on night shifts, seek medical advice or limit yourself to day work only- believe me, there are plenty of hours available from Search for both days and nights!

About the Author

Chris Pritchard is the Associate Director for Search Medical, Health and Social Care. Covering offices in the North West England, Chris manages six individual teams covering temporary and permanent recruitment for nursing and social care roles, both in the private and public sectors as framework suppliers of Social Workers to Local Authorities and Nursing to NHS Trusts. He has been with Search for almost seven years, and working in recruitment for twelve years. He is passionate about helping clients in the sector attract a diverse workforce into the health and social care industry from entry level roles up to qualified specialists.

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