Tips for Navigating The Night Shift Safely

February 5, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
Hospital doctor shadowing & global health experience programs.

Click here for 2021 shadowing opportunities

Working night shifts is a way of life for most nurses, whether it is by choice or default, on a regular basis or only occasionally. Many nursing professionals opt to work nights because of the many benefits it offers including a better paycheck, a more relaxed pace of work and fewer disruptions or perhaps because it fits around other personal commitments. However, while there may be benefits to working the night shift, it can also be detrimental, with many studies linking several health and safety risks to working the graveyard shift.  

On placement in Radiology What studies reveal regarding dangers of sleep deprivation

Numerous studies that have been done show that individuals working night shifts or even rotating shifts very seldom get the optimum amount of sleep that is recommended. These same studies show that lack of sleep is the single largest contributor to medical errors. One study found that nurses who reported a near miss or an error on their shift slept far too few hours on a regular basis. Inadequate sleep resulted in several negative consequences. In addition to putting their own health and safety at risk, it also jeopardizes patient safety and is the major cause of motor vehicle accidents, endangering other people on the road. More and more studies are showing that lack of sufficient sleep can cause almost as much impairment as alcohol. 

Unfortunately, despite the overwhelming evidence regarding the dangers of working the night shift, because of the very nature of the work, it is impossible to do away with shifts altogether for nurses. For nurses, the challenge is to develop strategies to navigate the night shift safely while keeping themselves and everyone around them healthy and safe. 

These strategies can help

All sleep-related studies have shown without any doubt that sleeping during the day does not fully compensate for a lost night’s sleep. If you are working nights, it is important to create an environment at home that will provide you with enough hours of quality sleep that is so critical to your health and well-being. Don’t cut back on your sleep hours because you have way too many commitments to handle. Sleep is a priority – everything else can wait.

On those days when you are scheduled to do the night shift, make time to take a pre-emptive power nap in the afternoon. This will help you stay sharper and more focused when you are on duty and will prevent any inadvertent on-the-job errors.

Sleep experts recommend taking a 20 to 30 minute ‘restorative’ snooze during your break. This can do much to reduce fatigue, restore energy and improve performance for the remainder of the shift.

Good sleep hygiene is another factor that will help you get quality, energizing sleep after a long sleepless night shift. This includes limiting or avoiding alcohol and any other caffeine containing drinks before going to bed, refraining from large meals and vigorous workouts before bed time and sleeping in a cool, quiet, darkened room. Establishing a nightly routine such as a warm bath or reading in bed can help too as it sends a signal to the body that it is time to wind down and get ready for bed.  

The key to navigating the nightshift safely lies in getting as much sleep as you can, when you can.