At some point or another, every nurse will get a taste of working the night shift. Working as an agency nurse gives you the flexibility to choose your own shifts, but for many nurses, working through the night is an attractive proposition - it can save money on child care if you have a partner at home in the evening, many wards are quieter during the night, and night shifts offer a higher rate of pay for agency nurses.
Mayday Healthcare has been a leading nursing agency since 2003, and over the years we’ve learnt a few tips and tricks to help you make it through your night shift, and get to grips with nocturnal nursing. If you’re looking for your next agency nursing job, you can use our quick register form here.
Sleep is key
We get tired at night - there’s no two ways about it. Darkness makes your body release melatonin and you become sleepy, so transitioning to night shift work can have a drastic effect on your sleeping pattern. It’s important to let your circadian clock adjust, and plan your sleep schedule to make the night shift as easy as possible.
Ahead of your night shift, try to sleep for as long as you can during the day before. Some agency nurses recommend staying up late the night before and try to lie in the following day, followed by a short nap before the shift. This helps to minimise fatigue.
The next important thing is to make your sleeping space a haven for optimum rest and relaxation. It’s well worth investing in items that will help you get the best quality of sleep, including blackout blinds, ear plugs or an eye mask. This means when you get home, you can get some proper shut-eye, whatever time of day it is.
Health and Nutrition
While working through the night caring for patients, agency nurses can often neglect their own health. It’s not uncommon to feel a little bit unwell when you first transition into night shifts as your body gets used to the change.
If you’re someone who drinks caffeinated products, they can be used wisely to promote wakefulness and keep you alert. However, caffeine is a double edged sword - excessive consumption can lead to muscle shakes, an upset stomach and headaches. Try to drink little and often, rather than a giant coffee to kick-start the beginning of your shift. Ideally you should stop drinking caffeine 6 hours prior to your “bed time”, to stop it impacting your sleeping pattern. Staying hydrated is key - drink water throughout the night to prevent headaches, drowsiness and feeling poorly.
While preparing for your night shift, it’s worth preparing some meals in advance - either for during your shift or when you get home so you don’t have to cook straight after your shift. Healthy snacks like fruits and nuts will boost your energy levels during the night, and won’t give you a sugar crash.
No one knows you better than you know yourself, so make sure to assess your own health regularly while undertaking your agency nurse assignments. Night shift work can take its toll if you don’t look after yourself. Be especially careful when driving to and from your shift, as getting behind the wheel while tired is incredibly dangerous.
There’s lots of things you can do in order to balance your life and your agency nursing job. Let your family and friends know you’re working nights - this will stop them from disturbing you during the day so you can sleep, and also means they’ll have an understanding of your situation. Find time to do the things you love, and when your night shifts are over, treat yourself to a nice meal, a good film or whatever you enjoy.
During the night shift
Dealing with patients during the night can be very different to during the day. Depending on the unit or ward you’re working on, some patients may be asleep. As an agency nurse you may start on a ward that you’ve not been to before so settling in can take time. If it’s safe and possible to do so, agency nurses recommend communicating your night time care plan to patients. This helps to manage their expectations and often makes patients more receptive (as they like they’re involved and have some control).
Balance your time essential tasks with other tasks to keep yourself occupied. If you experience quieter periods during the night, find something to keep your brain busy so you don’t get drowsy. It can be tough trying to stay awake when there’s fewer staff around.
The night shift is an essential part of providing care to patients who need it most. Many of our agency nursing jobs offer night shift work. Mayday Healthcare are recruiting for agency nurses across a range of locations and specialisms. If you’re looking for an agency nursing job, get in touch with our recruitment team today or register now.