Thriving, not just surviving the night shift.
What a relief! You have just passed your boards, accepted your first job as a Registered Nurse, and you’re gearing yourself up for the night shift life. Wait a second. Night shift? I have to be awake working while the rest of the world sleeps? What does that even look like?
Most nurses work the night shift at some point in their careers. Some, out of preference. Others, because it’s the only shift available on their desired unit. Whether they have been on night shift for a few months or several decades, there are a wide variety of positive benefits these nurses will tell you about from their time working late into the night.
I have fond memories when I look back on my own years of working the night shift. I can remember eating too many cinnamon gummy bears, laughing with my co-workers, especially when we passed the 2 am mark, and filling my journal with some crazy patient stories. There is a flow that accompanies the late-night hours you have to insert yourself into. This certain momentum will allow you to not hate your life on the other side of the clock. Once you find that sweet spot of work-life balance, the night shift can be pretty awesome.
Here are my top three personal tips to surviving night shift life:
Routine. You must first find a routine. This was pivotal to my success. Once you make your routine solid, the transitions from day shift to night shift life will become easier, I promise. My routine went something like this: on my first night rotation, I would take an early to mid-morning nap and then get ready for the shift at my usual time that evening. I would work my three twelve-hour shifts in a row, come home on day three, and nap for four to six hours and then stay up for the rest of the day. I would usually try to be in bed by midnight that night so I could wake up at a reasonable time the next day in order to flip my body back to day shift life for my four days off. Getting into that routine helped my sanity and gave me peace of mind to press on. A routine gave my mind and body something to focus on. As others can attest, the first day off of work can be a little rough, physically speaking, but that brings me to tip number two in my mini-survival guide.
Listen to your body. Eating healthy foods and staying hydrated makes a world of difference in your body’s response to the rapid clock differentials you’ll be putting yourself through. My body often felt tired whenever I would flip over to my day shift routine. But knowing how to read my body’s cues for water and eating a well-balanced diet helped me feel more normal and not like a lazy bag of bones that just wanted to sit around all day and do nothing.
Find your people. It’s pretty easy for nurses to become friends with their co-workers. And this makes a giant impact while on and off the job. It can be so comforting texting that other co-worker at 3 AM and knowing that they are also working on their laundry or watching Netflix. Just knowing you aren’t the only weirdo that eats cheeseburgers at 8 o’clock in the morning when you are getting off of work can be just the support you need. Find your people. Stick close to them. And never let them quit. By the end of it all, the night shift crew starts to resemble a family.
Night shift life can seem daunting to one who has never worked it. But if you give it a solid go and make sure you're taking care of yourself, the night owl life can be really fun and rewarding.