For many travel nurses, working the night shift is a way of life. Some natural “night owl” travel RNs make this transition very easy and actually thrive in a 7p-7a type of environment. For most travel nurses, however, this schedule can be extremely challenging, even on a temporary basis. On your feet, all night, working a crazy-busy shift, fighting natural and work-induced exhaustion…does this sound familiar? For those travel nurses that are working nights, here are some tips to help make the most of this demanding schedule.
1.) Eat smart:
When you’re physically and mentally tired, our bodies often crave “comfort food” to satisfy the unusual demands of a nighttime schedule. The problem with this is that there is a difference between a craving for junk food and the real need for healthy energy foods to keep you properly nourished. It’s very important to try to avoid the easy-to-grab snacks out of the break room vending machine. Refined sugars, empty calories, high levels of sodium, and bad fats actually wreak havoc on your system and your sleep patterns, not to mention your overall health.
Eating smaller, more frequent healthy snacks will keep you awake and energized throughout your shift. Fresh fruits and vegetables, high-quality proteins, and frequent hydration with water or nutritious drinks are the keys. Foods like bananas, low-salt nuts, low fat (and low sugar) yogurt, low-fat cheese and are great for keeping your engine running throughout the busy evening. And for a sweet treat, try dried fruits instead of candy bars.
2.) Use Caffeine with Caution:
It may seem like a great idea to grab that cup of coffee and give yourself a little extra jolt to get through the back half of your shift, but it may come back and haunt you when you finally do get home and try to wind down from a long “night”. Instead, have your caffeine earlier in your shift and try to avoid it as much as possible in the latter half. Avoid “energy drinks” at all costs. These drinks usually contain high amounts of sugar and a ridiculous amount of caffeine that can make you jittery and uncomfortable during a shift, not to mention give you an upset stomach.
3. Sleep Schedule
Working odd hour shifts makes it difficult to get into a regular routine, particularly when you are trying to maintain some semblance of a social life! Take steps to ensure you get some quality sleep when you get home. Simple things such as blackout shades to keep the sunlight out, earplugs to block noise, turning off your phone and other electronic distractions, and even scheduling your sleep will all make it easier to obtain those 7-8 hours of rest that most of us require to maintain our health and well-being.
4.) Stay active during breaks:
Take a quick walk to the cafeteria, step outside the facility for some fresh air, do some light stretching exercises, or rhythmic breathing. It can all help to keep you awake, refreshed, and mentally alert during your shift.
5.) Exercise Regularly:
Regularly scheduled exercise throughout the week is critical to maintaining healthy sleep patterns. Try and find a time each day to get 45-60 minutes of activity each day to keep in shape and keep you feeling good. If motivation is a problem, see if you can find a colleague that will be your workout partner to help get you moving or drag you to the gym on those days where you would rather be curled up on the couch with Netflix and a bag of Doritos.
It takes a special breed of travel nurse to work the night shift, either that or being the “newest” member of the staff! As a travel RN, it may even be the shift you end up working because of staffing shortages! Whatever the reason, your night shift experience does not necessarily have to be a bad one if you plan correctly and follow some of these guidelines.
If you’re a night shift nurse and you successfully navigate the evenings, please share some of your tips below with your colleagues who may need some help adjusting.