Hospitals operate on a 24-hour basis to ensure that their patients receive optimal care. This means that some will inevitably have to take on night shifts to keep a hospital running. Although their job scope remains the same, the atmosphere of the working environment has changed. Hence, they will have to adjust their schedules to accommodate the night shift, and here are some ways to ensure they maintain the same productivity as day-time shifts and a healthy mental state when they take on the night shift.

Sleep and snack, before and during the shift

When preparing for the night shift, the first task is to get a good sleep during the day. Allowing the body to run through the circadian rhythm early will better energise it for duty better for the night shift later. However, this can be challenging as it requires effort to overcome the body’s natural body clock and achieve deep sleep.

One way to make adjusting the body clock a smoother process is to be in an environment conducive to sleeping. Create a comfortable space where the body can more easily succumb to sleep. Make use of curtains to minimise entry of light, and ideally, the space should soundproof to block off the sounds of day activities. Keeping the sleeping space cool will greatly assist the process of falling asleep. Doing some exercises in the day will also make the body fatigued, thereby allowing an easier transition into the deep sleep state.

While on the night shift, taking short 20-minutes naps can also refresh them and enhances productivity for the rest of the night. It is usually best to take such naps at 4am, when the body is at its most tired. However, healthcare professionals should check their hospital’s policies on napping before proceeding to avoid misunderstandings.

After ensuring that their bodies are well-rested from the sleep, healthcare professionals should take a meal before their shift. While oily or sugar-heavy meals may give a surge of energy for the healthcare professionals initially, if left unchecked, these meals might set them up for an energy crash later in the night. Instead, aim for a light, healthy meal that is easy to digest and is satiable, such as the local delicacy yong tau foo. Pack some snacks to eat and sustain energy during the night shift, such as nuts, fruits and vegetables. They should eat small portions and frequently to achieve the best effect. Caffeine should be consumed in moderation, as the effects vary between individuals.

Engage colleagues and balance relationships

Some healthcare professionals favour working at night as the workload is usually less and somewhat more relaxed. However, this also means that time passes by more slowly. Avoid being idle and take advantage of this relaxed pace to get to know fellow colleagues better. Not only does this alleviate the stress of the work, it also cultivates more cooperation between healthcare professionals and creates a more cohesive workplace. Nurses can also use this time to bond with patients who have more difficulties coping at night.

Their working hours will differ from their friends and family when they take up the night shift. Hence, it is vital to communicate and sustain good relationships amidst conflicting schedules between work life and other relationships. This enables the healthcare professionals to do their duties with a healthier mental state and greater motivation. Night shift workers are also allocated a higher average number of off days than day shift workers, and some have taken advantage of it to spend more time with their family and friends. Balancing their work and social life is key to maintaining a positive mindset about their night shifts and keep productivity high.

Most importantly, healthcare professionals must monitor their health as they embark on routine night shifts. Due to the timing of the night shifts and disruption of the body’s natural sleep cycle, there is a great risk to develop disorders such as insomnia, loss of coordination and depression. Thus, it is important for healthcare professionals to take note of the above pointers for optimal performance during the night shift. MIMS

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