Being a nurse is never easy, but when you add sleepless nights into the mix, things can quickly become unsustainable. Working the night shift and keeping your health intact requires a special set of considerations.
In this article, we take a look at tips and behaviors that can help you work the night shift without experiencing burnout.
Keep Tabs on Your Mental and Emotional Health
So much of life goes unexamined within the busy thrum of routine. It’s easy for key things, like your health, to receive little consideration. And yet that is exactly how burnout happens. Slowly, and over the course of many shifts, your passion for the job erodes and you are left feeling fatigued and tired.
Nursing is very hard work, and night nursing is particularly challenging. You get all of the emotional challenges that are built into the job with the added fun of insomnia.
Keeping tabs on your mental and emotional health is a good practice for anyone, but is particularly beneficial in this context. Pay attention to how you feel.
Do you dread going to work? Do you feel stressed more often than not while you are on the job?
Not all stress will translate into action, but when the majority of your working life becomes unpleasant, it may be time to make a change.
Care for Your Physical Health as Well
Maybe you’re not feeling super stressed— or at least you’re not experiencing more stress than the job warrants. Even then, working night shifts can be very difficult on your body. As a night shift nurse, you experience:
- A lack of sleep: It is difficult to catch up on sleep when you are working the night shift. Sure, you have days off, but that’s when your friends and family are awake. You want to be able to spend time with them, and sleep is frequently sacrificed to make that happen.
- You spend a lot of time on your feet: The average nurse walks about four miles during the course of a twelve-hour shift. Granted, you won’t break into the record books at that pace, but it is a significant amount of movement for a job, and it can easily translate into physical fatigue. You’re not just getting your steps in. You’re working at such a high volume that you don’t always have time for rest, or eating.
Eventually, physical fatigue can be just as damaging as mental or emotional fatigue. Think about your physical pain points on the job and work on ways that you can help to reduce or eliminate them. While there is nothing you can do about that four miles of walking on the job, there are ways you can make them more comfortable.
Do you find yourself getting hungry on the job? Pack portable snacks. Do your feet hurt? Look into better shoes. Small changes can have an enormous impact on your quality of life.
Take Your Scheduled Breaks
For a long time, breaks, PTO, leaving work on time, etc. had been regarded with a degree of stigma. Sure, these things are established employee rights, but they are also not conducive to performance at the highest level.
When there is something that needs to be done, you do it, even at the expense of your well-being. Granted, in the hospital setting, there is a degree of truth to that statement. If someone is having a medical emergency, you can’t say, “Sure! Be right there. After I finish this sandwich.”
However, it’s fair to say that even the worst shifts won’t keep you rushing from emergency to emergency for twelve straight hours. Take advantage of the quiet moments to utilize the breaks that were already built into your shift anyway.
Yes, there will still be things to do when you get off your break. However, that doesn’t mean that taking the occasional moment for yourself will come at the cost of productivity. Keep in mind that burnout is an efficiency killer. If you can recharge your batteries every now and then it will be to everyone’s benefit.
You know what they say about thirst, right? Of course you do, you’re a nurse! The general medical rule of thumb is that if you feel thirsty, it means you are already dehydrated. Not only is this bad for your overall health, but it can have a serious impact on the way you feel on the job. Dehydration can result in fatigue, foggy thinking, and a generally diminished job performance.
In other words, a whole bunch of things that are at least burnout adjacent. Don’t let things get that far. Drink water regularly on the job to stay in tip-top shape.
Be Sensible About Caffeine
Surely you aren’t saying that I should avoid burnout by drinking less coffee. Clearly, you’ve never worked the night shift.
It makes sense for night shifts to reach eagerly and often for the coffee pot. In fact, a sensible amount of caffeine can have mood improvement benefits that may make your time on the job more pleasant. Emphasis on the word “sensible.”
Too much caffeine can make you anxious— a feeling you certainly don’t need while working at a hospital. It can also interfere with your post-shift sleeping. The effects of even moderate doses of caffeine can linger in your system for up to six hours. High doses will stick around for ten or more hours.
So yes, drink coffee, but chose your timing and your quantities sensibly.
With a Bachelor’s in Health Science along with an MBA, Sarah Daren has a wealth of knowledge within both the health and business sectors. Her expertise in scaling and identifying ways tech can improve the lives of others has led Sarah to be a consultant for a number of startup businesses, most prominently in the wellness industry, wearable technology and health education. She implements her health knowledge into every aspect of her life with a focus on making America a healthier and safer place for future generations to come.
Disclaimer: The viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at Healthcare Staffing Innovations, LLC.
3 thoughts on “Tips for Avoiding Burnout as a Night Shift Nurse”
I worked med/surg for 22 years 10:45pm -7:15am. I didn’t have kids at those times, so I just shifted my life around by sleeping before work from 1pm to 9pm, going to work, & then staying up to do my chores or shopping. Then going to bed , work, stay up till 1 or 2, sleep then work. People who work day shift always sleep at night, then wake up to go to work. I just shifted my hours around so that I would sleep before work. That way I wouldn’t be tired in the middle of my shift.
There should be a discussion of blue light blocking glasses for driving home and checking phone before going to sleep after a shift. When I had to cover the hospital at night, being a skeptic, surprised by how easy it was to go to sleep after getting home. No more sleep lag until 09:30. I also have a blue light blocking screen cover on my devices, as an Italian study showed this practice improves computational sills.
All I can saw is I’m glad to be retired. And there isn’t enough money to even get me to consider working 10 minutes in any setting.
Get out while you can and…
Good luck to the rest of you.