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First Nursing Night Shift? Here's How to Cope

Overnight nurse

Fri, 11/01/2019 - 2:35pm

Nursing is a demanding career field. It requires many hours on your feet attending to the needs of patients as you strive to keep them healthy and happy. In a hospital or residential facility setting, nursing care is required 24 hours a day, 7 days per week. This often means overnight shifts.

If you’re heading in to your first overnight shift, you may find the process grueling. Staying awake when your body is used to sleeping is not for the faint of heart, and it can take a while for a new nurse to get used to the demands of the overnight schedule. Here are some tips to help you make it through your first overnight and learn to thrive on a crazy nurse’s schedule.

Bring Your Family on Board

Working the nightshift means changes for your family or your roommates. They must understand the need to sleep during the day and the demands that working at night places on your body and mind. Make sure you talk about what these changes mean for all of you and get their support in the days ahead. Also, schedule times, like breakfast on your work days, where you can have meals together and stay connected.

Understand the Demands

As a nurse, you must be able to provide your patients with accurate and safe medical care, no matter the hour. You must be physically ready for the challenges of night shift work, and you also must be emotionally ready to deal with the demands of your job, no matter the hour. Your mental abilities need to be at their best as well, so you can meet your patients’ needs thoroughly. This is not always easy, especially if your body is not used to night work, but there are ways you can keep your body and mind going well on your overnight shift.

Focus on Quality Nutrition

A carb-heavy or sugar-heavy diet can make you feel more tired than you really are. One way to avoid problems on your shift is to focus on your nutrition. Eat whole, balanced meals, and avoid loading up on sugar and refined carbohydrates. Give your body the fuel it needs to function well throughout your entire shift, and you will be able to stay more alert and aware throughout the night.

Use Breaks Wisely

Nurses sometimes get few breaks, but you should still get some. Use them well. Never skip a break. Use that time to eat some nutritious food if possible. If your hospital or facility has a rest area, take a nap. You will be surprised how much a 20-minute nap will improve your overall function when you get back on the floor. Always use an alarm and check your hospital’s policy on napping before laying down, but do this if you can.

Monitor Your Sleeping and Waking Schedule on Days Off

If you try to sleep and be awake during “normal” hours on your non-nursing days, you may throw your body off. It may not be possible to maintain nighttime awake hours and daytime sleep hours when you are managing a family, so you do need to be careful. Never stay up for the full 12 hours before a night shift, because your body needs sleep. Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep every 24-hour period, even when working the night shift, so that you will be able to function.

Stay Hydrated

Becoming dehydrated will increase feelings of tiredness. Keep a bottle of water on hand and use it. Yes, this may mean more trips to the restroom, but your body and mind cannot function properly if you are robbing them of water.

When considering what you should drink, try to avoid too much caffeine. It may give you a burst of energy, but you will likely fall into a slump when the burst wears off. Plain water is always best.

Keep Moving

Movement releases adrenaline, and adrenaline will help you stay awake. If you have a moment where you are standing or sitting at a desk to do some charting, try to walk in place. The more you move, the more awake you will feel and the better your mood will be. Remember, you’ll have the chance to rest on your next break or when your shift is over, so stay active.

Create Relationships with Coworkers

When you work the night shift, you are going to need other nurses to have your back. Build relationships with the people you’re working with. You may find that some of them are veteran night shift workers, and they can offer a wealth of information to help you manage your time and your energy on this challenging shift. Having strong relationships will also mean you have someone who can step in and help if you find yourself getting sleepy, especially as your body adjusts to this new normal.

Also build relationships with the other nurses who will take over for you. You need to have good communication when you work through shift transition, so no patient needs are overlooked. Having a positive relationship will help you communicate well with the other nurses in your facility.

Give Yourself Time and Grace

It will take time to adjust to night shifts. Make sure you give yourself some grace during this adjustment period. Your first couple of weeks working the night shift are going to be tough. You will adjust, though. It just takes some time.

Nursing, even with the craziness of the night shift, is a rewarding career field. If you’re looking to pursue an associate or bachelor degree in nursing, look no further than University of the Cumberland. With professors who have years of first-hand nursing experience, competitive tuition rates, and a sense of honor in everything we do, why look any further? See what UC can do for you by contacting an admissions counselor for more information.