When working night shifts staying awake all night isn’t easy, at times you can feel the eyes becoming heavy and it feels as though there is a force that is just pulling and urging you to fall asleep.
‘Hitting the wall’ in the early hours of the morning is the worst.
Luckily, that is only a phase that is going to pass by and as you snap yourself back to being in a fully aware state, you remember why you fight the need to not sleep.
Why Do We Sleep?
During sleep the brain and body rest and recover, sleep is an important biological function, essential for good health and wellbeing. Working night shifts is going against the natural circadian cycle by being awake overnight in the dark, instead of being awake in the day with sunlight.
Good sleep habits (sleep hygiene) is sleeping well on a regular basis, although it is not easy as common causes of sleep disturbances in life for anyone are-
- having children,
- being jet-legged after flying through different time zones &
- being on social media or the internet for too long
Night shift is the perils of any jobs that involve shift-work and is not exclusive just to nurses. But shift work as part of being a nurse, includes working rotating shifts of early, late and nights. Nursing is a 7 days a week, 24 hour a day occupation.
Overnight, the function of hospitals are greatly reduced, there are fewer people working compared to day shifts. The nurses who work night shifts are more independent and have to make decisions in an autonomous way as they take on the role of key decision makers.
Implications of health and wellbeing –
The implications of long term insufficient sleep are –
- effected thinking
- poor concentration
- poor memory
- low mood and
- reduced reaction times
- social isolation
These all impact a persons ability to perform daily tasks and increases the potential risks of mistakes and accidents happening.
A large amount of research is showing the effects of sleep disturbances to circadian rhythms contribute to poor health. The relationship between sleep and health problems are –
- it can cause certain cancers
- metabolic problems
- health disease
- gastrointestinal problems
- type 2 diabetes
- obesity and
- long term sleep disturbances
That list is way too long and scary!
I know many times before driving home after finishing a shift, I’ve had to tell myself to stay awake especially when I’m stuck in the morning traffic, a strategy for me is to play music as loud as possible and I find that singing helps (I’m so glad no one else is in the car with me).
Driving home after a night shift is hazardous as there is more danger of accidents on the road due to driving to and from work. Sleep loss impairs performance: 17 hours without sleep is as dangerous as having a blood alcohol content of 0.05% and 24 hours without sleep, as dangerous as having a blood alcohol content of 0.08%. (www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au).
Also, fatigue contributes to above 20% of RTA’s (road traffic accidents) in Victoria (www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au).
When working night shifts I feel like I am a nocturnal koala bear who needs to conserve as much energy as possible and the preparation of night shift involves me consistently searching for food, this is my night shift state.
Rotating shifts are part and parcel of some areas of nursing, having strategies to cope with tiredness and fatigue is extremely important, strategies –
- Sleep in the day before the first night shift to reduce the extended time you are awake for
- If possible have a nap during break time overnight
- Keep well hydrated
- Eat well, stay away from junk food
- If driving home and feeling drowsy- stop, pull over and have at least a 10 min nap
- Avoid alcohol, coffee or caffeine drinks before you go to bed
- Reduce the usage of social media devices for at least 30 minutes before going to bed
- Have a cup of tea to ease and to relax before going to bed
- When at home sleep in a quiet, dark and cool room.
- General self-care of eating well, exercising, using some lavender oil on a pillow may help
Everyone is different, and you need to find the strategies that work for you, also each of us needs different amounts of sleep.
Here’s a link to an abc life article on sleep deprivation
Can you die from lack of sleep?
Full Moon Phenomenon
After all this time as nurse, I am a believer of the full moon phenomenon, something freaky is always in the air when I’m working a night shift during a full moon and it just can’t be explained.
Nurses believe patients behaviours change and there’s an increase in the amount of random chaos that occurs. Psychologists, however, have found that there is no strong evidence for effects on human behaviour around the time of a full moon.
But just ask any nurse about their experiences during a full moon, they’re is werewolves like behaviour definitely occurring.
Generally, working night shifts make me feel a bit opposite to ‘normal people’ as I’m having breakfast when everyone else is having dinner. I’m setting off to work as everyone else is beginning to think about going to bed.
At work at the end of my shift, I’m starting to think about contending with the morning traffic on my way home. Once home falling into that bed is fabulous, it is quiet and warm, I slowly allow myself to fall asleep whilst my dreams will pull me into a magical unworldly state.