Shift-workers are my people. Night shit, second shift, weird 3pm to 3am shifts, twelve hour shifts, sixteen hour shifts….I’ve done it all. And It just fucking sucks.
One of the biggest challengers with shift work is that you never really have a routine. Whether you are switching back & forth from nights in order to have a social life or your workdays look so much different then your off days – it just makes it that much harder to eat well, move your body, and see your family every now and then. Here are some tips I’ve picked up from the last 10+ years of working in healthcare.
Plan ahead. If you’re anything like me, you get home from a 12-hour shift and the last thing you will do is cook. Without fail, if I don’t plan ahead & have easy options to feed myself, I WILL stop to get fast food on the way home. If you don’t like to meal prep, this could look like making big batches of food on your days off, separating them into portioned containers, and stashing in the freezer, ready to be microwaved. Or it could be pre-chopping fruits & veggies and having several different protein sources on hand to make a quick meal. I personally like to meal prep all 3 meals, so I have to put zero thought or energy into it. Find a way that works for you in order to avoid the after-shift hunger crazies.
Make hydration a priority. Get a big water bottle, fill it as soon as you get to work, and leave it in the most visible spot you can manage (speaking of – JHCO can suck it). You could set hourly reminders on your watch or phone to take a sip. Tell your coworkers you want to drink more water & have them hold you accountable. Tie it in with another habit you already do at work – every time you sit down to chart, take a few sips.
Make sure you get enough sleep. For my night shift peeps, this is way easier said then done. But you won’t need a gazillion cups of coffee to get through a shift if you’re getting 8+ hours. Make a bedtime routine (sleepytime tea, read for 30 mins, shut off electronics an hour before bed, etc) and do it every time without fail. Set a reminder on your phone to go to bed on time. If you work nights invest in blackout shades, a white noise machine, and wear sunglasses on the drive home. Don’t be afraid to sleep in a separate bedroom from your partner if you need to. Recognize that if you don’t sleep well, you’ll just feel like crap no matter what you do. And don’t try to do too much – don’t schedule errands for the time when you should be sleeping (I’m looking at you night shift!).
Don’t be afraid to take vacation. You need time to rest, relax, and recharge. This is especially important for my friends that have high-stress or high-stakes jobs like nursing. Don’t let them guilt you into working overtime when they’re short. Be selfish with your PTO, don’t cash it out – use it. Try to schedule your shifts in such a way that you feel recharged when it’s time to go back to work.
Make plans to look forward to. Your identity is more than your job. And one of the best parts of shift work is that we often get a more flexible schedule (hello, only working 3 days a week!) Make sure you are using your days off to fill your cup. Plan to go for a big hike, quick mountain getaway, go into the city for a few days, etc – whatever you enjoy, go do it. You’ll come back to work refreshed & happy.
You don’t have to exercise on workdays. Sure, it’s important to get regular exercise - but not if it’s going to impair your sleep, hinder your ability to be present for your next shift, or just add to your stress. If you can find a way that doesn’t detract from your life, by all means…go for it. But here is your permission to not feel guilty for not finding the energy to go to the gym after working a twelve-hour shift.
Find a job you enjoy. Everyone has to pay their dues…but if you really can’t stand night shift or feel like inpatient nursing is burning you out – find a job that you enjoy. Life is far too short to stay in a job that’s dragging down your happiness. Please don’t make the mistake that I did & wait until you just can’t stand it anymore! Continually re-assess if this right for you & if it aligns with your long term goals.