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Combat the Health Dangers of Being a Nightshift Nurse



One of the most challenging schedules a nurse can do is the night shift.

U.S. Nurses are among the 15 million employees in the country who have this kind of schedule, referred to as shift work. It causes all kinds of challenges-- from logistics to health.

Shift workers experience higher incidences of:

That's quite the list.

It also takes a bit of adjusting to be hard at work while the rest of the world is hanging out at happy hour, eating dinner with the family or drifting off into deep slumber.


Some of your patients may become a bit more antsy and demanding.


Some get lonely once visiting hours end, their friends and family have left and they’re left by themselves in strange surroundings.


Providing care, administering medicine, offering encouragement and completing charting are just a few of the line items on your never ending laundry list of things to do.


However, if you don’t take care of yourself, it eventually catches up with you, and you’re no good to anyone when you’re running on empty.

So consider the following advice to keep your health and sanity in check.


Be Intentional with Food and Snacking

We all know that the food in hospital cafeterias isn’t always healthiest food, so more nights than not, you should try to bring your own “lunch” (or dinner, or breakfast) to work to control calories, sodium and other nutritional components. This isn't new information, but it really needs to be emphasized, because when you actually follow through with it, you can really feel and see the difference in your focus and work performance. 

You should also buy enough energy boosting snacks ahead of time to last you for weeks so you can and carry some with you to work everyday . This could be a bag of mixed nuts or even a piece of dark chocolate or hard candy for a nice pick-me-up in the middle of your shift.

You can keep snacks like these (thanks Nurse Buff) in your scrub pockets and pop them in your mouth every couple hours to support a strong metabolism, balance blood sugars, keep you satisfied and help you stay focused.  

Modify Your Sleeping Routine To Benefit Your Hormones

The preparation for true rest should start before you even get home and hit the bed. Make sure you get exercise in during the day. Make sure to do calorie burning activities like taking the stairs, especially if you spend more time behind the desk instead of walking the halls.

Next, try to stop drinking caffeine a couple of hours before you get off your shift to make falling asleep easier. 

Make sure the people in your life understand the hours you sleep so they won’t be harassing you simply because it’s their “up” time.

Once you get home in the mornings after your shift, you should have a regular routine in place that leads up to bedtime as quickly as possible.

An example of this would be coming home, changing out of your scrubs, perhaps saying good bye to kids on the way to school, take a bath, brushing teeth, read a little and fall asleep with the goal of getting as close to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep as possible.  Then try and stick to the schedule everyday.

You also want to sleep in total darkness to regulate your circadian rhythm and melatonin levels, because sleeping in darkness as you were intended to allows your body to repair, reduce cortisol levels and balance itself. Sleeping in light (whether daylight or artificial electronic light) can affect body fat levels and insulin levels and inflammation in your system. So you may want to consider hanging dark curtains in your room and perhaps putting plugs in your ear to block out unnatural daytime sounds ( like lawn mowers). This will help you to have peaceful rest.


Recharge Mentally and Emotionally By Connecting

There are often plenty of things to keep you occupied on your shift, but when you have some of down time, spend it with patients who could use some encouragement or company. Connecting to your patient not only benefits them, it benefits you too.

A 2014 New York Times report found that interacting with strangers, even on a superficial level helped both parties involved, improving mood and mental health. 

A study published in the SAGE journal also found that when people treat strangers like acquaintances and engage in small banter, those minimal social interactions genuinely contribute to a person’s happiness. 

So ask your patient how they’re holding up, grab their hand or give them a hug if they could use the comfort of a physical touch; it’s a gift to the both of you.

Also, you should also make it a point to lean on your fellow co-workers you can trust if you haven’t already done so. Take the time to be silly with them, and offer to help a fellow nurse when they’re in need. It feels good to do things for people, plus, they will appreciate that and remember you in your time of need.


While this advice won’t make your work any less hard, following these guidelines will make it easier to rise to the occasion and enjoy yourself while you’re doing so.

Are there any difficult challenges you’ve had to overcome working the nightshift? What were they and how did you do it? Let us know in the comments!


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