Sunday, March 9, 2014

How to Survive Night Shift Nursing

For five years I have been a night shift nurse in the ICU. I never thought I would make the transition to day shift nursing but this past month I made the leap and for me it was the best decision I have made in years. I think I forgot how wonderful it is to sleep when it is actually dark outside and my days off are now actually days off! I'm not perpetually catching up on sleep or trying to rotate my schedule to accommodate work or my pathetic attempt at a social life.

Despite the horrors that the night shift bestowed on my life I do know that for many years I was happy on nights and I think I can share a few tips for those of you venturing into the graveyard world. Being a new grad nurse almost inevitably means you will start out on nights... even a seasoned nurse who moves to a new hospital starts at the bottom of the food chain and has to usually work the night shift. So, for those of you looking for some help in surviving beyond the land of the living... here goes.

1) Your schedule has to be the most protected aspect of your life. Whether you choose to work multiple days in a row or not, this is most important. You have the choice to stay on the night shift for a stretch and then switch your sleeping to match day shift on your stretch of days off or you can work one or two days in a row and then just stay on a night shift schedule always. Most night shifters I know work 3-4 days in a row (I never recommend more than 4) and then have 3-4 days off in a row to flip their schedule and live among the land of the living for those few days.

2) Plan your meals ahead of time. Sleep is the most important part of surviving night shift and what I found to be most helpful was planning all of my meals the day before I started a long stretch at work. The less time I'm worried about packing 12 hours worth of food, the more time I get to spend in bed and that is awesome.

3) Learn to say no. Being a night shift person unfortunately means that 99% of the time people will not understand your schedule or the need to protect your sleep. Social events can be really hard to plan because sometimes people don't understand that yes 1:00 pm is in fact WAY too early for a night shift person to wake up. Especially if it is your first day off! That first day off after working a long stretch... take my advice and don't make any plans. That day is ruined... a total wash and when you need to plan something that you can't get out of either do it right after work or very late in the evening.

Being a night shift nurse is incredibly hard. I did it for five years and I know many people who have done it for their entire career. Yes, it is quieter and slower and there are less people to deal with which is nice but you also work with fewer staff and you need to have more autonomy and the ability to trust your clinical judgement. Night shift also doesn't get nearly as much recognition as day shift. In fact I received my first present from a family member this week! 5 years I have been working at my hospital and this was the first time I have been given a thank you card for taking care of  a patient. It was nice and I realize now just how glad I am to be working again in the land of the living. Still, I value the time I had on nights because I learned a lot and hopefully my tips can help someone else too!


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  2. Hey: my last comment disappeared! Oh well..

    What I said was I've always had trouble with nights, especially sleeping. At the moment I'm trying the sleep patterns mentioned in this article:

    The Siesta Sleep pattern seems to be working out Ok for me so far.


  3. I just stumbled on your blog while looking for the major themes I will need to know for ICU nursing. I am a nursing student and I have just over 100 days left in my BSN program. I am (impatiently) waiting to hear about my senior practicum placement. I requested ICU and I hope to get hired as an ICU after passing the NCLEX. I am supposed to be doing a care plan right now, but your blog is great! Thank you for writing!

  4. I like your blog a lot. Its informative and full of information. Thank you for sharing.