tips for surviving night shift

As newcomers on the surgical team, there’s no doubt that many of you will be scheduled for the graveyard shift at your hospital, and some of you may be on 12 to 16-hour shifts. Since our bodies are programmed to function during the day and rest at night, the night shift can be like another world entirely. It’s important to stay sharp because the OR and the ICU are some of the most high-stakes environments imaginable, leaving very little room for error. Let’s take a look at some tips that can help you master the night shift and ensure your patients’ safety that much more.

Have Healthy Snacks & Water at the Ready

If you’re on the night shift, there’s a decent chance the cafeteria may be closed at your hospital. And once you step into an OR or the ICU, you may have no idea how long you’ll be in there. This is why it’s important to keep healthy snacks on hand. On the graveyard shift, you’ll experience general fatigue often, so it’s important to think about energy when eating. Avoid what dietitians call the “white devils,” which are flour, dairy, salt, and sugar. If a meal is heavy in carbs, it probably fits into one of those four categories. Try to keep your carb level low and protein level high. Great healthy snacks to have on hand are nuts, fruit, vegetables, cottage cheese, hard-boiled eggs, and organic peanut butter. Also drink plenty of water, at least 2 liters. While many prefer coffee on nights, only drink coffee as a last resort. Though stimulants can be effective at times, you might regret the crash a few hours later.

Stretch & Exercise Before the OR or ICU

Nothing gets the blood flowing like a quick exercise routine, even if it’s for less than five minutes. If you’re about to head to the OR or ICU, step into the locker room or lounge (if you can) and stretch your limbs for a quick workout. It could be jumping jacks, lifting light weights, or even pushups/sit-ups if you have a mat handy. If it’s a surgery day, you may be putting the machine together and priming it for surgery right away. If that’s the case, you can always show up early or exercise beforehand. This will make you more alert and help you beat the graveyard grogginess.

Go to Bed at the Same Time

According to the National Sleep Foundation, shift workers on the night schedule should go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on off-days and weekends. This may be a struggle at first, but two things that may be worth investing in are blackout curtains and a HappyLight, the latter of which can improve mood, energy, and concentration. Vitamin D supplements can also help a lot.