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Day in the life

Tips on surviving the night shift in healthcare

In a couple of weeks time I will be doing a two week block of night shifts. Not just one, not just two but three nights in a row. This is something I have been doing intermittently since I started working as a hca, and something that took a while to get used to.

I’m not gonna lie, I started to freak out and I thought ‘oh my god, I’m going to struggle so much! What am I gonna do, because by 10/11 p.m. at home I’m usually asleep and I’m gonna be at work and trying to keep myself awake!’ and I did panic about it but I put some things in place to make sure that my tiredness didn’t get the better of me and I could make the most of my night shifts.

With studying a degree which eventually will lead to working in healthcare it’s important to experience the 24-hour care system, so that includes nights, weekends, bank holidays etc. Hospitals are open 24/7 and it’s vital we experience all aspects.

This is my own personal experience and a few personal tips I’ve found helpful. If you have any other tips that I haven’t stated here please comment below for somebody else to see – it might really help someone out!

Working a night shift is completely different to the day. During the day we have an hourly schedule full of activities that we encourage the patients to part take in. This ends at 9pm with mindfulness relaxation some patients will go to bed now, a few may stay awake until 2am, 5am etc. Because we’re an adult rehabilitation unit we try not to interact with patients after 12/1am. Of course if they require psychological support that’s different, but if they’re sat in the lounge reading a book we typically leave them to it.

A few tips…

Get a lot of sleep in before your initial night shift…

So, on my very first-night shift, I want to get a really good night’s sleep the night before.

So go to bed as normal – other people might advise going to bed as late as possible, sometimes that works but just for me personally I go to bed as normal the night before.

I get up really early the day of the night shift, so around 6:00 a.m. I go about my day as normal and then I have a four-hour sleep in the afternoon. Aiming from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., I get up, shower, have a coffee before I leave for my night shift.

Battling the 3am slump…

Find ways that will help keep you alert during your shift.

  • I drink ice cold water to wake my body up.
  • Find productive tasks to help out the upcoming day staff, emptying bins, general tidying etc.
  • Making sure I get up and walk every hour. The more my mind and body are stagnant, the more tired I’ll be and the slower the night.
  • I’ll help out the nurse in charge as much as possible. Write up any incident reports, file paperwork, check and record money in the safe.
  • Catch up on any training. There’s always something new to learn!

Give yourself time to adjust

If you’re anything like me night shifts are really rough. When I first started nights I was so tired and kept fighting off the need to sleep. All I wanted to do was sleep even after my shift, I could easily sleep 10+ hours which isn’t like me at all. I function best on 6 hours of sleep so I force myself up. Remember that switching your circadian rhythm is not normal so it tough. Give yourself time to adjust.

Limit stimulation

Sleep is a luxury! Make the most of being able to sleep. Using your phone, iPad, laptop etc will stimulate your brain and keep you awake. Try reading a book, or listen to an audio book, sleep podcast or make a playlist dedication for sleeping. Spotify has so many great songs just dedicated to sleeping.

Night 1 is always the easiest!

By night 3 I’m done. I’m tired, I’m cranky and my body is confused. Night 3 is the hardest I always end up lagging between 3am-6am. So any tips leave them below in the comments please.

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