I wish I could tell you there is a magical elixir available that you can drink to help you sleep all day and wake up in time for your night shift feeling refreshed, optimistic, and ready to take on the challenges of your evening. If you can come up with this, you entrepreneur you, I’d be willing you bet you’d make a small fortune. There is no single tip, or trick to sleeping well before/during night shifts, but I’ve accumulated some strategies I implement myself that sometimes seem to improve my sleep/rest/wakefulness cycle we try to call a life.
Before Starting Nightshift
- Try to do something physical “the day before the day before”. Physical activity is good for your general wellbeing anyway, and it will set you up for a decent “pre-nightshift” sleep. I would go swimming, running, boxing or have a mega-house clean frenzy. Then get a decent amount of sleep prior to starting nights:
- Method 1: Stay up really late (at least 3am – 6am) the night before (calling/Skyping mates in different timezones or a TV marathon can help) then sleep for the majority of the day before your first nightshift.
- Method 2: Go to bed as usual the night before, sleep in until late morning, then go back to sleep for an afternoon/evening nap.
- Drink water and eat food (bring real food, not just junk, and a big water bottle that you can reach for when you are writing notes). Drinking enough water is my absolute number one piece of advice. It’s hard to be high functioning when you are symptomatically dehydrated. (Same goes for a CBG of 1.8!). *side note: try to get your H20 in with a few hours to spare in the end of your shift, otherwise you’ll be waking up to visit the bathroom while you’re trying to sleep in the morning.
- Just like with day shift, caffeinating during the second half of your shift reduces your chance of sleeping when you get home. Plan your caffeine. Eg. bring a big thermos and invest in decent coffee to have on arrival during handover, and at the halfway mark of the shift. (Sharing means your whole night team runs smoother & happier too!)
- If you suddenly realize you are too tired to drive home, DON’T. Call an Uber, or phone a friend. We don’t need any more post-nightshift road trauma (ask your seniors and they will all know of past incidents, one more is one too many).
- Your body reacts to sunlight. Wear dark glasses home, and invest in cut-out curtains; or an eye mask. Avoid artificial light – constantly checking your phone or iPad because you can’t sleep will make it worse.
- Most of us use noise (alarms) to wake up. So, if you need to sleep, invest in ear plugs.
- Don’t use alcohol to help you sleep. It is a sleep inducer but it will disrupt your REM sleep which impacts on how rested and functional you are on waking.
- Don’t commit to things during the day because daytime people expect you to – you are living their life in reverse. Eg: Delivery service*: “So, you’re on nights, you’ll be home during the day, we can deliver at 3pm.” Me: “So, when you’re on dayshifts, do you plan to wake up at 3am to let random people into your house?” No. You don’t.
Turning Around Afterwards
- There are many turnaround styles to consider. Just make sure you get the amount of sleep you need before you go on to do other higher functioning after your nights.
- Method 1: After post-nights breakfast, go home and have a four hour nap eg 8am-12pm. Hang around your house like a zombie and get some daylight exposure, then go to bed at your usual time.
- Method 2: Sleep for 36 hours (all day and all night). Have a glass of water, some carbs like crackers by the bed and a clear path between the bed and the porcelain throne. **Consider DVT prophylaxis. Also consider involving other humans and hobbies in your life that does not make this manageable.
Hopefully as a nightshift worker you have found some of these tips helpful. Often times, sleep depends on your patient assignment, if you have noisy pets, or those pesky small people at home, as well as seasonal changes. Either way, you’re living like a Vampire, so enjoy some blood at the end of your rotation (wine.. I’m talking about wine..what else is new- just go to bed).