Surviving Shift Work

Nursing isn't your average nine-to-five profession. It's requires work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year. That's why many nurses are required to perform shift work that requires them to be in the hospital during long and odd hours. It isn't an easy task, especially in a field that requires alertness and mental acuity at all times; one mistake can put a life in danger.

For most nurses, half the battle in the hospital is against their internal clock. Because the body follows the circadian clock – the 24-hour cycle of sleep and wakefulness humans naturally follow – it's difficult for the average person to stay productive without consistent periods of rest. Humans desire to sleep between 12 a.m. and 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Disrupting those patterns can cause severe fatigue, insomnia and hypersomnia. The result is regular periods of sleep that last fewer than four hours and long periods of sleeplessness. Stress related disorders become the norm, including indigestion and heartburn. Weight gain and addiction aren't uncommon; food, alcohol and drugs can be used to cope. Of course, less efficient employees have a negative effect on their workplace. Recent studies have shown that nurses who endure shift work commit more minor errors than well-rested nurses who work friendlier schedules.

If you've been assigned shift work, it's important that you prepare yourself effectively so that you can perform your job to the best of your ability. A healthy lifestyle will enable you to meet the physical demands of being a nurse. Exercise regularly when you have the time. However don't exercise before you go to sleep – the increased heart rate will keep you awake. Eat nutritious food throughout the day, especially during downtime in the hospital. Utilize breaks and rest up when you have the opportunity. You need the right amount of energy to stay alert. Avoid caffeine at all costs. It can disrupt your sleeping pattern, and if you drink it within hours of your usual bedtime, you won't sleep well. Although enduring shift work may not come naturally, taking proper care of yourself will increase your chances of surviving the grind.