Whether you are a doctor on call or a nurse on duty, the night shift will definitely be a daunting task for a new healthcare professional. Working late hours is definitely not an easy task, and will be one of the most tiring experiences in the early stages of your career. Below are some useful tips and tools to help you survive your many night shifts to come:

1. Adjust your body clock

Shifting from the regular 8am to 5pm to a reverse 8pm to 5am shift will definitely take a toll on you if you come unprepared. One of the most helpful things you can do to in advance is to adjust your body clock. Staying up the night before and sleeping in till the late morning or early afternoon will move your day back by a few hours, giving you the right amount of energy at the right time for your shift.

But picture this: Finally your shift has begun. It is 1am in the morning and you feel the lethargy setting in. Time seems to have slowed down and your eyelids feel as though they are getting heavier and heavier, but now is not the time to fall asleep. So how do you keep yourself awake?

2. Snacking

A heavy meal could fill your hunger during the shift, but will also likely leave you in a food coma. Instead, consider snacking in intervals. Snacking is one of the quickest ways to wake yourself up, and can help to maintain your metabolism throughout the night as your body works continuously to digest the constant intake of food.

There are many snacks that can give you the quick energy boost you desperately need. Fruits are full of sugars which can give you a burst of energy, and bananas are especially good for this. Whole grains and clean protein are sources of slow energy release, providing a much steadier rate of energy release over a long period of time to last you throughout the night. A peanut butter sandwich on wholegrain bread is perfect for this purpose.

3. Stay hydrated

Water is one of the most important things you need for the shift. While you may not be doing any strenuous activity, your body is still losing water in small amounts and this can lead to slight dehydration if you do not replenish it. Effects of dehydration can make you lose focus during the shift, or prevent you from getting a good rest afterwards. So remember, drink water throughout the night and try to drink at least one cup of water for each hour you are working.

4. Caffeine fix

The old coffee fix is the most straightforward way to stay awake, giving you the needed kick to stay up for whichever shift you are on. Caffeine can come from many different sources, whether it is that good old cuppa Joe or some tea. While a cup of green tea can have more caffeine and less sugar than a latte, both will give you that caffeine fix you need. However, it is also important to plan your caffeine intake. Taking it too late into the shift can have lingering effects and impede your rest when you get home.

5. Chatting with co-workers

Like any shift, you will not be doing it alone and will definitely have company throughout. So why not make some friends and talk to your fellow colleagues during the night shift? Conversations not only keep you awake mentally, but may also help to pass time. Compared to day shifts, night shifts are generally quieter with fewer things to do, so it can definitely feel like time is dragging on at times.

Initially, working the night shift may feel vastly different from the day shift. However, after some adjustment and enough experience, you will find that they are pretty much the same. Developing a routine that works for you not only helps you to adjust and stay awake for future shifts, it can also be a great learning experience for you as a young healthcare professional. MIMS

Read more:
Permanent night shift – a nurse's story
Pharmacists: 4 benefits of doing the night shift
Nurses’ night shift survival kit
Nurses: 7 caffeine-free energy drinks to keep you going

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