Social Care News
Working night shifts and sleeping during the day can wreak havoc on your natural rest cycle – so it’s beyond essential to have strategies in place to make sure you get enough sleep, whatever time that might be!
Most care professionals will work a night shift now and then. Others will regularly work shift patterns, which typically involve a specific number of days on, and then a few days of rest to catch up.
Here we run through ten of our top tips to ensure you can manage night shifts without feeling run down.
1. Select Your Shift Patterns
It’s vital to bear in mind that we’re all different. Some care professionals can volley between night and day shifts without batting an eye, whereas others may find it a significant challenge.
Our first advice would be to ensure you’re comfortable that you can manage the shift work. All OUTT.com candidates have the freedom to pick and choose the shifts they’d like, so there is no pressure to work during the night if you find it difficult.
Shifts also vary between care homes or social care facilities. That might be six weeks on day shifts and four weeks on nights, often with a single stint lasting up to 12.5 hours at a time.
Alternatively, you might do a set number of night shifts per week. In that scenario, some care professionals find they don’t have time to readjust their sleep pattern before the following day, so keep an eye on your health and make a judgment call if you don’t feel your night shifts are sustainable.
2. Make a Family Plan
If you have pets to care for or school runs to accommodate, you will almost certainly require support with these day-to-day tasks when you’re working night shifts.
Letting those close to you know will ensure you have a support system in place. That could include:
- Asking the postman not to ring the doorbell (a polite note or quick chat usually suffices!).
- Ensuring people know your phone will be switched off during certain hours and not to panic if you don’t pick up.
- Sharing out household duties and rotas so you’re not juggling other responsibilities while trying to catch up with sleep.
- Having agreements about ‘household awake’ times. You might prefer to sleep in a spare room so you aren’t disturbed, or have rules around what times the TV can be on, for example.
Anything you can plan will make night shifts a lot less stressful.
3. Prepare Meals in Advance
When we’re awake all night and asleep during the day, our eating patterns also suffer a knock-on impact.
One of the best ways to manage this is to prepare meals in advance – you could batch cook a bolognese, for example, and keep portions in the freezer ready to whip up a homemade meal when you get home.
Some care facilities will also have minimal options overnight if canteens are closed, so bringing a nighttime meal with you is vital.
4. Value Your Sleep Hours
It’s common to feel guilty about being asleep during the day – so you need to make sure you’re not tempted to start doing laundry loads or cleaning the house when you should be getting much-needed rest.
There are many ways to improve your sleep quality, such as using earplugs, blackout curtains, blinds, soothing sleep playlists and switching all electronics to blue light filters (or turning them off completely).
Sleep quality is just as important as quantity, so a few hours of deep sleep will leave you far better rested than a whole day of tossing and turning.
5. Acclimatise Your Circadian Rhythms
We know that sounds like a strange instrument, but hear us out!
Your circadian cycle is your sleep vs waking cycle, and if you’re working nights for the first time, you might find it impossible to sleep during the day as your instincts tell you that it’s time to be awake.
One trick is to stay awake as late as possible the night before your first night shift.
That means you can sleep later in the day, wake up in the afternoon for work, and make a gentle adjustment, making it easier to rest the following day.
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6. Eat Well Before Sleep (but Ditch the Caffeine!)
Even if it’s just a small snack, we’d recommend having something to eat before you go to sleep.
There is nothing worse than drifting off to slumberland and then waking up because your stomach tells you it’s time for lunch! Having something nutritious and filling to eat will ensure you sleep well and won’t be disturbed by a hungry stomach.
Ensure you avoid any stimulants, such as alcohol, caffeine or smoking, which can disrupt your sleep cycle.
7. Drink Plenty of Water
We all know that staying hydrated is a great way to stay healthy and alert on a long shift – and this applies more than ever when working night shifts or adjusting between working patterns.
Water is a great way to stay awake, and won’t disrupt your sleep, as multiple cups of tea will! You can also drink herbal or fruit teas if it’s a quiet night shift – that means you get the comfort of a hot drink without finding it tough to switch off when you get home.
It’s also essential to be hydrated to ensure you don’t end up with raging headaches – a common side effect if you’re asleep most of the day, hence not drinking, and then forget during work.
We’d recommend bringing a water bottle or canteen with you to ensure you don’t miss out on drinking if you have a busy shift.
8. Embrace the Power Nap
If you wake up feeling groggy, pack your lunch in a daze and still feel drowsy, a power nap can do wonders. A quick 20 or 30-minute snooze just before your shift begins or on your lunch break is ideal.
The key is to avoid sleeping too long, as if you end up in a deep sleep, you’ll feel worse for it when you wake up and need to get back to work.
9. Don’t Drive if you Feel Exhausted
Another common issue with night shifts is that if you’re not yet adjusted, you can experience extreme tiredness in the morning when you’re about to go and get some rest.
You mustn’t drive if you’re feeling seriously sleepy. You can car share, take a brisk 10-minute walk before you leave, or book a cab if you have any doubt whatsoever about being alert enough to drive safely.
10. Make Time for Fun Activities
Finally, if you are working nights, you mustn’t make every waking hour about work. If you’re working 12.5-hour shifts and have 11.5 hours to yourself, you could split that up into:
- Half-hour drive home.
- One hour with the family over their breakfast while you have dinner.
- One hour of rest to take a bath and perhaps indulge in a bit of pampering.
- Seven and a half hours of sleep.
- An hour in the evening to get dressed and ready, listen to music or spend time with your nearest and dearest.
- Half-hour drive to work.
By building in two hours a day of quality time with your family, and an hour or two to yourself, you’ll still be able to manage those long night shifts without feeling like you’re missing out on other things.