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10 Tips on How Nurses & Caregivers Can Stay Awake During a Night Shift

Model tired yawningOur natural sleep rhythms are all different. I’m a morning person. I get my best sleep when I go to bed early and sleep for at least 7 hours. I can’t sleep in or nap to make up for lost time. My husband is a night owl who feels his best when he goes to bed late and sleeps for 8 – 9 hours. He can nap almost anytime.

Sometimes we have jobs that don’t allow us to follow our natural sleep inclinations. A nurse or caregiver who has to work the night shift is a prime example. I have a friend who is the sole caregiver of her elderly parents and also has a full-time job. In order to do both, she has to go to bed at 8:00 and get up by 3:00 to get 7 hours of sleep. She often has to get by on 6 or less. If nursing or caregiving is your full-time job, you might have to work 8-hour shifts or longer when everyone else is usually sleeping. You can expect it to be hard at first.

Some people actually love night-shift work, which probably means they already know some of these tips on how to stay awake while on the job and still get the sleep they need to stay healthy and feel alert:

  1. Make daytime sleep your #1 priority.
  • Get 7 – 8 hours of sleep. Don’t let others talk you into skipping sleep for other things.
  • Have a suitable sleep environment; keep the room dark and as quiet as possible.
  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule. When you’re off, stay up as late as you can. When you go to bed, set your alarm to wake up early. Get up, stay busy and go back to sleep in the afternoon. By doing that, you’ll stay up later at night and sleep more during the day.
  1.  Nap. Take a 30 minute nap before your shift begins.
  1. Eat healthy meals and snacks.
  • Eat lightly before your shift. Big meals make you sleepy.
  • Eat small portions throughout the shift.
  • Don’t eat a lot of high-sugar snacks; you’ll get a boost and then crash.
  1. Be careful with your caffeine intake. Don’t drink any caffeinated drinks during the second half of your shift, or they might keep you awake at home when you’re trying to sleep. The same thing goes for energy drinks or drinks with a high sugar content.
  1. Keep moving; stay busy. Use spare time to catch up on paper work, organize supplies, exercise, etc.
  1. Drink plenty of water for hydration, oxygenation and an active bladder that can act as an alarm clock.
  1. Keep your mind stimulated; do something intellectual. If you have the time, read an interesting book or do puzzles and brain teasers. If reading puts you to sleep, run a video or radio to keep you company.
  1. Refocus your thoughts. Try not to think about your soft warm bed, but instead imagine yourself doing something active in an exciting, sunny place.
  1. Stay cool. This might be difficult if the home or building in which you work is kept warm for patients. Dress in layers, step outside for a few minutes, use a fan, open a window if you can contain the cool air.
  1. Expose yourself to light. It will help your mood as well as your ability to stay awake.

After Shift Tips:

  • Take time to decompress.
  • Try to refrain from taking sleeping aids.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Stay in touch with the outside world.

For more detail on the above ideas, check out these helpful articles.

by Marti Lythgoe, Writer/Editor

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