Coping with night shifts

By Marama Montgomery
Coping with night shifts working in the medical industry

Coping with night shifts

One of the most common questions people ask when starting any one of a number of medical jobs in Australia that require it is: what are some ways to cope with working night shifts?

General tips

Switching to night shift work is jarring and discomforting for most people. Our bodies rebel against the unnatural nocturnal switch, so looking after your health is of the utmost importance.

  • Drinking lots of water and eating healthy, energy-rich food are important if you want to continue feeling (relatively) comfortable.

When typical daily rhythm is thrown off balance, so too is metabolism. Night shift workers are more likely to experience metabolic syndrome and have a 29% increased risk of becoming overweight or obese due to poor diet and the disruption of the body clock.

  • Planning your meals can help you to stay alert during your working hours and be more relaxed when you need to sleep.
  •  Try to stick to a similar eating pattern to the one that you would follow during the daytime.
  • Eat frequent light meals or healthful snacks to avoid the drowsiness that is associated with heavy meals.

You might be tempted to rely on coffee or energy drinks to get through, but avoiding a caffeine overload is also really important, aside from being unhealthy and unsustainable, it can also affect your ability to sleep during the day when you’re off work.

Exercise keeps your mind clear and blood flowing, fights stress and anxiety, improves your endurance, concentration and focus and boosts your energy and mood.

  • The best time of day to workout for night-shift workers is largely dependent on the preference of the individual.
  • Spend one week working out before, during and after your shift and see which one is the best fit for you.
  • No matter which time of day you choose, treat exercise as if it’s an important appointment you cannot miss.
  • Team up with a fellow late-night coworker to keep you motivated.
  • In addition to exercise, eat a healthy, well-balanced diet and get plenty of sleep.

Every person is different, so finding the right combination of techniques that suit you best may take time. Applying some of the above strategies may help you on your way to coping better with working at night and ensuring that you get the right amount of sleep to function properly

  • Making sure that you have a bedroom at home that’s dark enough to get some sleep when the sun is shining is a must. Even though it might feel strange, whatever sleep you can manage will be your lifeline for recharging your body and staying mentally sound.
  • Nap before your shift . When you don’t sleep well or when you’re awake for long periods, your “sleep drive” (the pressure to sleep) increases. If you nap, even for 20 minutes, it can relieve some of this sleep drive and make you more alert during your shift.

Working in blocks

Many medical jobs (especially doctors and nurses) will have night shifts in batches or blocks, meaning you won’t just have the one night shift, but will actually work a few of them in a row, or on a rotating schedule. This is a good way for employers to avoid burnout among their staff, giving everyone time on the night roster while making sure they aren’t doing it for too many consecutive shifts.

This does, though, present some difficulties. Most notably, if you’re on a rotating schedule of alternating night shift and day shift blocks, then swapping between them effectively can be really challenging. Your body will alternately get used to night work and then shift back to a diurnal rhythm, repeatedly.

  • The key for thriving in this kind of schedule is to plan ahead and allocate “swap-over” days in advance.

When you’re changing shifts you should keep the day or night before free for relaxation and preparation, ensuring plenty of healthy food, sleep, and limiting things like caffeine and alcohol.

Developing a routine while working, is key to helping the time go smoothly. Obviously when it comes to working on wards in a hospital each shift can be unpredictable particularity when you are in ED. Keeping a clear head and organised workload will make night shift more enjoyable.

Night shift workers often have other duties that are not related to patient care. These are usually clerical or paperwork jobs that need to be done for the day.

  • You need to prioritise patient care around these other duties so that you make sure you are still answering bells, doing rounds, and administering medications.
  • Even though you don’t have to necessarily prioritise like day shift, it is still an important part of the night shift scene

Whether you make a lifetime career of working varying shifts that include night shift or choose to just do nights, working in the Medical and Healthcare industry is a rewarding and interesting career where interactions with patients are constantly testing your clinical skills.


Doctors, Healthcare Industry Knowledge, Nursing, Working in A Hospital

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