Written by Kathryn Stock
Nurse & Nurses.co.uk Specialist Writer
When I was a student nurse I used to dread night shifts. Trying to stay alert at 4am, sleeping in the day when everyone else is up, going into work as everyone was heading home or out on the town was often too much.
I remember finding the 7 nights on, 7 days off pattern in A&E especially difficult, and I often found myself ill by the 5th night.
There are studies which suggest shift work is bad for your health as it disrupts the body’s natural circadian rhythm, an internal timekeeper that dictates when, how and how long you sleep every day. Working rotating shifts, moving from early to night shifts, even in a regular pattern is particularly disruptive to the bodies rhythm.
I just work night shifts now, and prefer this. However, I recognise many of the symptoms described in the literature as Shift Work Sleep Disorder
. These include insomnia, excessive fatigue, headaches, and lack of concentration. Accidents are also more common, as is irritability and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.
I'm fortunate that I cope well and haven’t suffered, however I'm careful to ensure that I make time to sleep in the day. It is easy to get distracted by things.
Just as most people would consider it natural to sleep at night, that is how I view my days when I am in a run of night shifts.
For some, having nights off between shifts helps. I prefer to get my nights done together, and then have 3 days off to catch up.
What's important is to find the way that works for you.
Obesity is another problem
affecting one third of workers. I struggle with this, as I never know when to eat a main meal so end up snacking throughout resulting in a higher calorie intake.
It's also difficult to exercise due to tiredness and time constraints.
The benefits of night duty in a nursing home are that there's a routine to follow, and as we are about promoting restful sleep for our residents, the work atmosphere is generally calm with less interruptions than the day.
Also, my shift pattern fits well around my family, allowing me to be at home for the children.
Most nurses have to work night shifts, so, it's important for us to recognise problems that can occur, and take steps to look after yourself, something that nurses are traditionally bad at.
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