For many nurses and midwives working night shifts, it can be challenging to keep energy levels up and remain mentally alert. Here are five ways to re-energise and combat night shift fatigue.
It’s hard to focus when you are dehydrated. Water has energising properties and staying hydrated can help you function optimally while working at night. Have a big water bottle by your side at your work station to sip regularly.
While caffeine can help keep maintain alertness, it is best to monitor your intake and drink in small doses. Try a hot cup of green tea. Avoid caffeine drinks later in the shift which may make it difficult for you to fall asleep when you get home.
Staying active is one way to negate the effects of fatigue. Research shows nurses and midwives on night shift experience the most drowsiness about 4am. If you are due a break at this time, re-charge with a short burst of activity by taking a walk within your facility or climbing a couple of flights of stairs. If you’re stuck on the ward, something as simple as doing 12-15 repetitions of stretches or exercises such as push-ups, leg lifts or crunches can re-invigorate.
Have healthy snacks
Similarly to dehydration, it is difficult to function if your blood sugar level is low. Eating small snacks throughout the shift will keep your energy levels up.
Pack a variety of fruits, vegetables and high-protein snacks to sustain you. Protein helps supply your body with a steady source of energy. Snack on high quality protein foods such as a small tub of Greek yoghurt. Avoid refined sugar snacks which may provide an instant boost but cause energy levels to plummet later on. Dried fruit or a granola bar will give an energy boost.
Find constructive ways to keep busy
On some wards and units the night shift may be slower-paced than working the day shift. It also has less interaction with other healthcare professionals, facility staff and families. While fewer staff are employed on the night shift, there may be more opportunity to interact with awake patients and provide better patient care. Chatting with your co-workers will also make the time go quicker and may help develop stronger workplace relationships. There may also be opportunities to get any work done that will help colleagues on other shifts.
Be aware of your rights
Be aware of what breaks and conditions you are entitled to in your workplace.
Night shift workers need opportunities to take a brief walk, drink coffee, chat with others and get some fresh air.
These all help to maintain concentration and reduce workplace errors.
The ANMF Victorian Branch night shift policy outlines management must ensure all nurses and midwives working night shifts have access to similar facilities and amenities as day staff. These include access to food heating and refrigeration equipment; appropriate and secure staff only rest facilities; and environmental working conditions that meet OH&S legislation including security and lighting.
Be aware of self
Finally, monitor your own health. Research shows night shift workers have a higher risk of adverse health outcomes including insomnia, high blood pressure, menstrual irregularities and weight gain. Give some thought to how you can offset these risks and best care for yourself during your night shift roster.