Night shift nursing can be difficult and strenuous, even when not traveling. Being away from home can exacerbate the stress unless you take steps to make those long night shifts go more smoothly.
Set and stick to a schedule
This can be hard for travel nurses to do as you are often asked to take assignments that require a bit more flexibility than staff nurses generally have. As much as possible, work to create and stick to a schedule that includes sleep, exercise, meal preparation, and social activities. Don’t forget to include self-care and family/friend time, as those connections will go a long way toward keeping your spirits up while you’re away as a travel nurse.
Create consistent sleep patterns
Sleep is the most important component of staying healthy and effective as a nurse. When transitioning to night shift work, it can be easy to go into a sort of survival mode, grabbing just enough shut eye to get through the night. But numerous studies have shown that sleep deprivation leads to many negative consequences, including weakened immunity, memory issues, and trouble with thinking and concentrating–all things that could be disastrous for nurses and other healthcare professionals.
It can be difficult to adjust to sleeping during the day, so take steps to ensure restful sleep. Consider investing in blackout curtains and a sleep mask, as exposure to sunlight tells your brain and your body that it’s time to be awake. Try a white noise machine (apps on your phone are also available, easier to access when you’re traveling), to block out the noise of your environment.
Watch your caffeine intake at work. Although coffee, energy drinks, and other sources of caffeine may feel helpful in the moment, having too much caffeine or having it too close to bedtime can significantly affect your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Recommendations on caffeine intake vary, but a general consensus is that about two cups of coffee or two energy drinks per day is generally safe for adults. Try to stop drinking caffeine at least a couple of hours before your shift ends and you head home to go to sleep.
Try your best to get the same amount of sleep every day. When possible, go to bed and wake up at the same time. Your circadian rhythms will be thrown off a bit by the night work, so you’ll have to intentionally reset some of your patterns in order to get enough rest.
Watch your health
Sleep deprivation can have significant effects on your mental state, but can also take a toll on your physical health as well. High blood pressure, detrimental changes in hormone regulation, and suppressed immune responses are just a few of the ways the body responds to not getting enough sleep. Monitor your physical health closely while you’re working night shifts.
Exercise and good nutrition are vitally important to maintaining your health. It might take some creativity and some trial and error to find the right kind of exercise and the right time to do it, but the payoff will be well worth it. You might try exercising after your shift ends in the morning, but be cautious of getting your body temperature too high, as that can interrupt your sleep patterns. Consider working out when you wake up in the late afternoon, as it can get your heart rate up, your brain in gear, and help you be ready to go to work.
Good nutrition is non-negotiable while working a night shift. Although it might seem easier to hit the vending machines for a carby pick-me-up, that little boost could end in a blood sugar crash at the wrong time during your shift. Taking a little time to prepare meals and snacks before your shift, including protein and complex carbohydrates, will help keep you balanced and energized during your shift.
Make friends on your night shift
One of the best ways to get through any shifts, but especially night shifts, is to make friends with the coworkers on your shift. Being able to talk, help each other, and generally be present for one another can make the long nights much more enjoyable. It’s also comforting to know that in a crisis, as can often happen on a night shift, those coworkers who have become friends will have your back.
Many night shift nurses report that they often go to breakfast together after their shifts are over, in kind of a makeshift happy hour. Having this social interaction can lead to an influx of positive feelings and resultant positive chemicals flowing through you, which can make sleeping that much better and more restful.
Enjoy the benefits of night shift work
Finally, there can be benefits to working the night shift! Higher overall pay, bigger lulls between patients and crises, and preference when applying can all be positive attributes to working overnight. And sometimes the interactions with patients during the night can be precious; patients can be lonely and afraid in the wee hours, and having a caring and attentive nurse can make their hospital stay more comfortable. Also having some daytime (as long as you protect your sleep!) to explore your surroundings, make and keep appointments, and have some downtime during the day can be perks that will keep you going.
Don’t shy away from nightime travel nurse night assignments. With a little intention and some planning ahead, working the night shift can be as or more rewarding than daytime shifts.