Healthcare Night Shift Survival Guide

Learn how to survive the night shift in the healthcare industry with a list of helpful tips, tricks, and guides to utilize. Read more:

Healthcare is a 24/7/365 profession, and there are never times when doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers aren’t needed. Most healthcare professionals work night shifts at some point in their careers, and some choose to work the night shift for many years.

Working at night presents many challenges. It can be hard to adjust to staying awake all night and sleeping during the day. Night shift nurses and doctors tend to get less recognition than their peers who work during the daytime. Nighttime is often harder on patients and their families, which can add more stress and frustration to the healthcare workers caring for them.

Despite these challenges, however, there are unique advantages to working the night shift. A nontraditional work schedule can leave more time for socializing with family and friends during the day. It’s easier to enjoy activities and destinations during off-peak hours. Many healthcare workers on the night shift use some of the daytime hours to study or attend career development courses.

Whether you’re preparing for your first night shift or have years of experience under your belt, it’s essential to plan ahead to protect your health and quality of life. We’ve created this healthcare night shift survival guide to help you prepare for the best possible experience. Follow these proven tips and tricks to make sure you thrive on the night shift.

Managing Your Personal Health

Working at night can be hard on your physical health. Your body and mind are used to being awake during the day and sleeping at night, and flipping that schedule can be extremely challenging.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), night shift work leads to a higher risk of cancer, heart disease, reproductive issues, and digestive problems. Taking proactive steps to maintain your physical health can give you a better chance of avoiding these issues.

Avoid Sleep Disorders & Setbacks

Sleep deprivation is one of the most common challenges that night shift workers face. Many night shift healthcare workers have trouble sleeping and/or experience excessive sleepiness.

Healthcare Night Shift Survival Guide

There’s even a name for this phenomenon: sleep work shift disorder (SWSD). Other symptoms include headaches, concentration problems, and lack of energy.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, between 10% and 40% of shift workers have SWSD. This type of sleep disorder can lead to accidents at work, poor decision-making, and mood problems, all of which can have severe consequences for healthcare workers and their patients.

Here are some tips for getting adequate sleep:

  • Set a consistent sleeping routine, and try to wake up around the same time every day.
  • Avoid consuming caffeine at work within six hours of your planned bedtime.
  • Invest in sleep aids: blackout curtains, earplugs, a comfortable mattress, a white noise machine, and an eye mask.
  • Try napping if you can’t get eight uninterrupted hours of sleep.

You might have to try a few different sleep schedules to find the right one for you. The most important thing is to make sleep a priority.

30 Minutes of Exercise 4 Times A Week

Healthcare workers on the night shift often find it hard to get enough exercise. It can be challenging to fit in a workout when you're trying to make time for sleep, grocery shopping, and other essential tasks.

Some studies show that as little as 30 minutes of exercise four times per week can provide significant health benefits. Here are some easy exercises you can fit in at work:

  • A short, brisk walk
  • Stretching
  • A lunch break yoga session
  • Bodyweight exercises: squats, arm circles, calf raises, etc.

Remember, a little exercise is better than no exercise.

Follow a Healthy Diet

Several studies show that diabetes is another potential health risk that affects healthcare workers on the night shift. One study indicated that night shift work increases the risk of diabetes by as much as 37%. Maintaining a healthy diet can help you reduce these risks. Here are a few tips:

  • Hydrate: Drink at least eight glasses of water per day and more if needed.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine consumption.
  • Choose healthy snacks: fruit or vegetables with a source of protein.
  • Eat whole grains and vegetables for fiber.
  • As much as possible, rely on protein and minimally processed carbohydrates for energy, rather than sugar or caffeine.

Keeping Yourself Safe

One aspect of night shift work that many people overlook is the safety factor. It can be more dangerous to travel to and from work during certain times of the day. Likewise, it may not be feasible to go for a walk outside during your break.

Here are some ways to keep yourself safe:

  • Carpool with coworkers
  • Take public transportation
  • Drive on well-known streets
  • Check-in with a trusted person when you arrive at work and at home

Safety is always key!

Staying Busy During Your Shifts

Many night shift workers struggle to stay awake during work. They may also experience extreme sleepiness, which can affect their decision-making and work performance. Keeping busy during your shift can help prevent these issues.

Keep a Schedule of Tasks

If you find yourself drifting off at work (or at home when it’s not sleeping time) create a list for yourself that includes:

  • Essential work tasks
  • Optional/additional work tasks
  • Breaks
  • Down-time tasks/home chores

You can also use mind exercises, like puzzles, to help keep yourself awake and engaged during work.

Take Breaks When You Need To!

Denying yourself breaks at work may seem heroic, but you’re just risking your health and lowering the level of care you can give your patients. Some research suggests that taking frequent, short breaks rather than fewer longer breaks may be best for night shift workers.

Maintaining Relationships With Your Family and Friends

Working at night can be isolating – it can feel like you’re the only one awake and working. You may worry that sleeping during the day will make you miss out on fun activities and time with your loved ones. With a little planning, you can make sure your night shift work doesn’t negatively affect your social life.

Create Relationships With Coworkers

Working the night shift gives you a unique opportunity to develop friendships with your coworkers. The challenges of working a nontraditional schedule can help you bond more quickly than you might in other work environments. Here are some other ways to develop friendships:

  • Ask for tips from night shift veterans
  • Offer advice to new night shift workers
  • Check-in with each other about your emotional state
  • Ask about hobbies and nonwork topics

Building relationships with your coworkers is also a great networking opportunity for career advancement.

Participate in Learning Opportunities

Another way to get more social time is to find some learning opportunities. You could take a cooking class with your spouse or a pottery course with one of your children. It’s also a good idea to consider attending programs on your own. This gives you something that’s uniquely yours.

Creating a Work/Life Balance

It might seem harder to maintain a good work/life balance when you’re working the night shift, but some healthcare workers actually find that nontraditional work hours make this easier.

Develop a Realistic Schedule

A schedule makes it much easier to make sure you get enough time for yourself outside of work. Once you know the exact hours of your night shift, develop a schedule around them. Having a consistent schedule also makes it easier to get yourself in the right mindset for work, and to then switch out of that mindset when it’s time to relax.

Make sure to block off enough time to commute, sleep, eat, and take care of home-related tasks. Then, look for areas where you can schedule personal downtime and opportunities to spend time with family and friends.

Prioritize Rest and Relaxation at Home

Use your time away from work wisely. It’s limited, so prioritize the things you value most. Maybe that includes time with your partner or children. Perhaps you are also going to school part-time. It’s essential to give yourself enough time to rest. Here are a few activities that can help you calm your mind and body:

  • Enjoy a hobby
  • Spend time outside
  • Take a warm shower or bath
  • Get a massage
  • Participate in family activities

You don’t need to do everything – pick activities that are truly restful for you.

Update Your Healthcare Certifications Online

Most nurses, doctors, and healthcare professionals end up working the night shift at some point in their careers. While it can be difficult to adapt to this nontraditional work schedule, you can make it easier on yourself by creating a good work/life balance. A detailed schedule ensures you have time to maintain your physical health, relax outside of work, and spend time with your loved ones.

Working the night shift doesn’t always leave a lot of time for professional development. With eMedCert, however, you can obtain or renew your professional certifications entirely online. Study whenever it’s convenient for you. We offer programs for BLS, PALS, and ACLS certifications, and you can save money with a bundle package. Contact us online for more information.

Sign up for your ACLS, PALS, and BLS online courses TODAY!