For nurses with ever-changing schedules, adapting to changing shift cycles can present several unique challenges. Shift work isn’t always kind to your circadian rhythm—the body’s natural clock that keeps us awake during the day and slows us down at night.
Patient care is a 24-hour operation, so to take care of yourself and ensure patient safety and satisfaction, it’s necessary to make adjustments to your sleep schedule and daily routine. Especially for busy nurses who are always on their feet, self-care is crucial for job satisfaction and improving the patience experience.
To provide the best nursing care and remain focused and productive, here are three tips to stay healthy and well rested despite a shifting schedule:
1. Get Enough Sleep and Practice Good Sleep Habits
According to a study from Vanderbilt University Medical Center, up to 25 percent of nurses go without sleep for up to 24 hours to adjust to working the night shift, which is the least effective strategy for adapting the circadian clock.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends several sleep strategies for shift workers:
- Keep the same bedtime and wake time schedule, even on weekends.
- Lower the temperature in your bedroom for more restful sleep.
- Use eye masks and earplugs to eliminate distractions, noise and lights from your sleeping environment.
- Turn off your phone and use white noise to soothe you to sleep with a fan, soft music or a white noise machine.
2. Be Careful with Caffeine and Other Stimulants
While caffeine is an effective method for offsetting fatigue, overdoing it can be detrimental to your health. Use caffeinated products wisely to get the most benefit. To maintain alertness during your shift, drink a caffeinated beverage like coffee or tea early on, so it doesn't interfere with sleep later. It takes about 20 to 35 minutes for caffeine to kick in, so the earlier you drink it on your shift, the better. Avoid caffeine within five hours of your scheduled bedtime.
3. Eat Healthy and Get Active
Selecting energy-boosting meals and snacks before and during a shift can have a significant effect on your energy, stamina and performance levels. Well-balanced meals that include protein, low-fat foods and complex carbohydrates are optimal. Consume smaller, frequent meals of raw salad, nuts, fruits and vegetables to avoid an energy crash or sleepiness. Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration, fatigue and headaches.
Staying active during breaks is an effective way to reboot your energy level and work exercise into your day. To reduce stress and maintain focus, try taking a walk to the cafeteria or climbing a set of stairs. According to the American College of Emergency Physicians, exercise has been shown to increase circadian adaptation, especially aerobic exercise soon after waking up. Just 30 minutes of daily exercise or starting a yoga routine can help you adapt to working varied shifts.
Learning what works best for your body and your health in adapting to your schedule may take some time, but the benefits are well worth the effort. Using the above tips and strategies will help you stay healthy, energized and ready to provide quality patient-centered care during every shift.
No matter your shift, patient satisfaction is your number one priority. Use this handy checklist to ensure you are meeting and exceeding expectations at all times.