How to Adjust to Night Shift Scheduling

The medical profession is not quite a 9-5 job. Medical emergencies or concerns don’t only happen in regular daytime hours. Anything can happen at any moment, so people need medical professionals and facilities to get help at any time around the clock.

That’s why you’ll have to endure shift scheduling over any hours of the day. You could be scheduled with early starting hours and end shortly after the noon hour for some weeks. Or, you’ll commonly have the midday shifts that give you some time to wake up at a regular hour and make it home for dinner.

Most nurses and doctors who work in hospitals, 24-hour clinics, or care homes will end up working night shifts throughout their careers. These nighttime work hours require some adjustment to function properly and help those who rely on your services.

Importance of Adapting to Night Shifts

If your body isn’t rested or prepared for night shifts, you may find yourself struggling during the overnight hours. Without allowing yourself to prepare for these hours, you’ll end up enduring hours of grogginess, which could lead to making mistakes, impacting your relationships with your coworkers, management, and more importantly, your patients.

It’s essential that you’re in top physical and mental condition for any work hours, even when they are overnight. Failing to adjust could impair your mental wellbeing and lead to you feeling more stressed during shifts. In this field, you need to be level-headed, so you can make the right judgments and perform your tasks flawlessly.

If your body is overtired, you’ll find yourself in constant fight or flight mode, which could further drain your energy. That’s why you need to make sure you are mentally present and well-rested for your night shifts.

You won’t want to be in distress mode when tending to a medical issue. You may act thoughtlessly and impulsively, leading to poor decisions and errors with negative consequences for your patient, your hospital or clinic’s reputation, and your work status.

Preparing Ahead

Switch Your Sleep Patterns

Before your cycle of night shifts, you need to kick-start your new sleep cycle so it will be easy to follow between shifts and help you get through your consecutive nighttime shift lineup. If timing allows, gradually adjust your sleep hours before your night shift. Stay up increasingly later into the early-mid morning hours and sleep into the late morning or early afternoon. That way, when you leave your first nighttime shift to go home to sleep, you’ll successfully doze off since your body will be used to sleeping during morning/afternoon hours.

If your body is having trouble committing 8 hours of sleep during daylight hours, you could try to squeeze as many hours in the morning and a nap before your shift to avoid sleep debt.

Meal Planning

Not only will your sleep cycle be thrown off-course by night shifts, but so could your metabolic system. Normally, your body is not meant to digest food overnight. Eating heavy meals during your shift overnight could cause weight and digestive issues, so it’s recommended that you try to stick to regular meal scheduling as much as possible.

Before your night shifts:

  1. Eat a filling dinner, so you’ll only need light, easy-to-digest snacks to hold your hunger over while working.
  2. Stock up or prepare light snacks that will contain the nutrients you need for energy without caffeine or sugars that could impact how you sleep when you get home.
  3. Have breakfast in the morning either before you go to sleep so you won’t wake up with hunger pangs or as soon as you wake up to maintain a healthy, functioning digestive cycle.

Surviving the Shifts

The conditions of a night shift tend to be very different from the daytime. No visitors are coming in and out, management is usually not present, walk-in cases are rare unless it’s a medical emergency, and patients are likely sleeping through most of it. These are considered low-key hours for medical staff to catch up on work that couldn’t be done during busy hours and standby for in-house patients' required services.

A night shift's slower pace could lead to faster energy loss since you’re not being stimulated. To ensure you last through the shift, try these tips:

  • Consume caffeine, but sparingly
  • Collaborate and communicate with coworkers (including day staff to pass on valuable information and nighttime staff for handling patient issues)
  • Offer extra attention to make awake patients comfortable
  • Work ahead to make day staff’s shift easier

What to Do When Your Shift Is Over

As you complete your eight or 12-hour night shift, you’ll likely want to rush home. But it's best to take extra safety precautions. If your sleep schedule has still not adjusted to nighttime scheduling, you could be leaving home, the clinic, or hospital exhausted. This is dangerous if you need to operate a vehicle to drive home.

To get home safely, make sure you are in proper condition to drive before getting behind the wheel. If you are too tired, consider carpooling with other staff or take public transportation.

If you drive home, try wearing sunglasses, so your body will think it’s still dark and prepare itself to rest. That way, you can get home and straight to bed for an appropriately long sleep that will help your body restore for your next nighttime shift.

Worried Night Shifts Will Stop You From Achieving Certifications?

Your night shifts may seem like an obstacle for medical professionals looking to earn certification or recertification for ACLS, PALS, BLS or CPR, AED, and First Aid. Fortunately, our online ProMed Certifications programs are easy to fit into your busy scheduling. We’ll save your course progress as you go so you can start where you last left off before or after your night shift.

With ProMed Certifications, you can achieve the necessary certifications for your success in the medical field anywhere, anytime.

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