Improving patient safety and care begins with you. As an integral member of the overall care team for any patient, your health and state of mind can – and do – directly impact the quality of care delivered to all of your patients.
This is something that every nurse takes seriously. But it is also something that can become a challenge when working varying shifts week-to-week, or even just working the midnight shift over a long period of time. This type of schedule can mess with the body’s natural circadian rhythm, causing side effects that are certainly less than desirable.
As part of its Culture of Safety series, the American Nurses Association recently published a page on its website that addresses the serious ramifications of nurse fatigue. Not only does its research point to the potential for errors with patients, but it also indicates how it can impact your health. Cardiovascular disease, cancer and GI issues are only a few of the serious health implications. In addition to this, there are more immediate side effects such as the inability to concentrate, compromised memory, increased risk of errors and even the inability to effectively communicate to patients, physicians or other nurse colleagues.
Finding a balance when working midnights (or varying shifts in a short period of time) requires planning. The National Sleep Foundation has a lot of great information about how to neutralize the effects of shift work. For starters, research indicates that the human body never fully adapts to working midnights. This may help you feel better. In other words, if you find you get short-tempered, are forgetful or find it difficult to effectively communicate to coworkers, there is a good reason for it!
Also according to the National Sleep Foundation, the time period between 4-5 a.m. is usually when you will be most sleepy when working midnights. For this reason, do not save tasks that require more focus for that time period. When possible, do them earlier in your shift. Here are some other tips from the National Sleep Foundation on how to get the rest you need and make the most out of it:
- Wear dark glasses to block out the sunlight on your way home.
- Keep to the same bedtime and wake time schedule, even on weekends.
- Eliminate noise and light from your sleep environment (use eye masks and ear plugs).
- Avoid caffeinated beverages and foods close to bedtime.
- Avoid alcohol; although it may seem to improve sleep initially, tolerance develops quickly and it will soon disturb sleep.
Doing what you can to minimize the negative effects of working midnights – or varying shifts – can go a long way in keeping you and your patients as healthy as possible.