Regardless of your role or the industry that you specialise in, night shifts are never easy, and all come alongside their own challenges. However, when in the healthcare field, you’re likely to find that unlike other industries, a night shift most definitely doesn’t mean a boring few hours twiddling your thumbs. There will be a host of tasks to complete, medication to administer, and patients to care for, so keeping your eye on the ball will be vital. This means that preparing for your night shift the right way will be essential in ensuring that you can stay cool, calm and collected, no matter how stressful the situation may be.
A Guide To Preparing For A Night Shift
Whether you are approaching your first night shift or have tried a few and struggling to power through, there are a wealth of ways that you can prep yourself. As the famous Benjamin Franklin quote goes, “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”, so taking time to get yourself ready for your night shift will always work towards your advantage.
Having specialised in medical recruitment for many years, we have worked with hundreds of healthcare professionals filling private nursing jobs and much more. This means that we have picked up a host of tips on how to adapt to overnight shifts, ensuring that you not only stay alert but continue to feel healthy while doing so. Our guide will run through the following:
- Tell Your Friends & Family
- Get Into The Routine
- Get A Good Nights Sleep
- Prepare Tasty Meals & Snacks
- Pick Up A Reusable Water Bottle
- Get Your Uniform Ready
- Give Your Home A Quick Tidy
- Be Sure To Fit In “Me Time”
The hardest thing to adapt to when working night shifts is the unsociable hours. As your loved ones begin to unwind for the evening, this is when your day will start and vice versa. This can become particularly frustrating when living in a busy household, whether this may be with your partner, children or housemates. So, the first thing on your preparation list should be to let your friends and family know your night shift schedule. In making everyone around you aware that you’ll be operating on a different time zone for a few days, you can ensure that you get the sleep, peace and quiet. They may even be nice enough to save you some dinner and leave it out for you to enjoy when you get home!
As well as telling your friends and family, you would also benefit from rescheduling any parcels that are due to be delivered on the day that you finish your shift. There would be nothing worse than falling into a deep sleep only to be woken up by a delivery driver knocking on your door. If you cannot reschedule your slot, then you could always ask a friendly neighbour to sign for your parcel.
When your body is used to a sleeping routine, for example, 11pm to 7am, it can be tricky to adapt to your new schedule and switch to the opposite. This means that if you are struggling with staying awake during your night shift, then try to slowly ease yourself into the routine a few days before. Instead of sticking to your usual 11pm bedtime, stay up a few extra hours then sleep in for longer, which will help to shift your sleeping routine. If you are able to do this for a couple of days prior to your night shift, then you can reduce fatigue and tiredness throughout your shift.
In some instances during busier periods, you may find that you have to switch from a day to night shift with as little as a day in between. This lack of time will make it super tricky to adapt your routine, so there will be nothing wrong with taking a nap during the day a few hours before you’re due to start. Everyone’s body is different and what may work for one nurse, may not work for the other, so experiment with different sleeping patterns to find those that keep your brain alert and body healthy.
While it may seem obvious before any shift on the ward, now more than ever, a good nights sleep is essential. Not only will a night shift impact your sleeping pattern the day of the shift, but you are also likely to find it tricky to get into a routine for a few days after. This means that you may see yourself relying on that one deep sleep to see you through the next couple of days.
With this in mind, we know it can be super tricky to force yourself into a deep sleep, especially when you’re not particularly tired, so investing in items that will help you to drift off will always prove beneficial. Blackout curtains or blinds will be your best friend as they’ll allow you to enjoy a good sleep, even during the day. Most nurses also pick themselves up an eye mask and earplugs, which are particularly useful if you share your home with others who do not work overnight. Lastly, don’t forget to skip the caffeine a few hours before you’re planning to go to sleep; otherwise, you’ll definitely find it hard to dose off!
Keeping yourself energised is all about filling your body with nutrients and goodness, which is only possible if you are eating the right foods. During a night shift, it can be so easy to reach for comfort foods or sugary snacks from the vending machine for a quick boost. But the problem is just that, they give you short-term energy, meaning that in an hour you will be back to square one – sleepy, hungry and most likely agitated. A far better option would be to get yourself organised and put together a meal prep plan. If you can do this for a week at once then perfect, but not to worry if not, there is no harm in putting together a meal at a time for the following day.
When preparing meals and snacks for your night shift, the key is to avoid meals that will make you feel heavy and sluggish such as pasta or burgers. Instead, opt for fresh foods which are not only healthy but will also benefit your energy levels. If you are someone who prefers a more hearty meal, then a homemade soup is an excellent route as you can make batches at once, which will last you the next few days. For something lighter, on the other hand, raw vegetables with hummus, salads and wraps are all delicious choices. Simply prep your meals, pop them in a reusable tub, and you’re ready for your shift!
In terms of snacks, you most definitely will not be short for ideas, and you’ll be pleased to know that we’re not going to say no to treats. Fruit and nut bars are always a keen choice, along with apple slices dipped in peanut butter and popcorn. Take a look at Women’s Health for 45 healthy but tasty snack ideas – and even better, they’re all under £2.50!
On a night shift, it can be easy to turn to coffee for a pick-me-up, and while one cup is not a problem, it is essential not to rely too much on caffeine. Why? Because caffeine dehydrates the body, which will cause you to feel even more tired. The key to keeping both hydrated and energised is to drink plenty of water, so ahead of your night shift, don’t forget to invest in a reusable water bottle. If like many of us, you are more likely to use something if it looks great, then treating yourself to a nice bottle will encourage you to drink more water. We suggest choosing a bottle that holds at least 500ml of water and is ideally, designed in stainless steel as this will keep your drink nice and cool – we love the ranges over on Chilly’s!
There would be nothing worse than rushing around to get ready for your night shift only to find that you have forgotten to wash, dry or iron your uniform. This will not only put you behind schedule but causes stress, kicking your shift off on the wrong note. So to ensure that the lead up to your night shift is as smooth as possible, spend time getting your uniform ready in advance. Many nurses opt for freshening up and ironing every set of uniform all at once, ready for the week ahead. Once clean, neatly hang your uniform up so that all you need to do before your shift is grab it out of the wardrobe, and off you go!
By now, you’ve probably noticed a pattern in how to prepare for your night shift and its all about organisation. The more tedious tasks that you can get out of the way in advance, the more likely it will be that you can start your night shift feeling fresh and ready to take on any situation you may be faced with.
After a night shift, the only thing on your mind will be jumping into bed, so the last thing you want to be faced with is a messy home, whether this may be piles of clothes on the bed or dishes in the sink. To ensure that you can thoroughly relax once you get home, try to give yourself an extra 15 minutes before leaving for your shift to give your home a quick tidy. Once complete, if you still have a spare few minutes, why not prepare a snack and pop it in the fridge or lay out comfy clothes that you can change straight into when you get home?
Last but most definitely not least, when preparing for your night shift, don’t forget to fit in some “me” time. It can be so easy to fall into the routine of worrying about what your shift may bring before you even get into the ward, meaning that work can quickly take over your free time. So, to help to maintain a good work-life balance, ensuring that you put some time aside for something that you thoroughly enjoy will be vital. Whether it may be soaking in a warm bubble bath with a book or an hour workout at the gym, always keep in mind that caring for yourself is just as important as caring for your patients. For more self-care ideas for nurses, take a look at our previous article.
Begin Your Night Shift Cool, Calm & Collected
As mentioned previously, preparing for your night shift calls for meticulous organisation, whether it may be putting together tasty snacks or hanging your uniform up ready to grab while you get ready. Once you are confident that you are prepped for any situation you may be faced with, its time to tackle the night shift itself. Luckily, we have put together a guide to overnight shifts for nurses, which is most definitely worth a read!
Alternatively, if you are hoping to grow in your career, then our healthcare recruiters are always more than happy to help. With a host of healthcare jobs available in an array of roles, our dedicated consultants will work with you to find a position that fits with your requirements and lifestyle. Feel free to contact us to get started!