This is a topic that I know a great deal about. I have worked the night shift almost my entire working career and still continue to do so. There are many tips and tricks that I can share with you about how to successfully work the night shift, but the truth is…our bodies are just not made to be awake during the night.
Many people ask me why I still choose to work the night shift when I don’t have to. I choose to work “the graveyard shift” because it seems to work well for me and my family life. Even after all of these years (20+), I am human, I still struggle. Yes, I tell people I am a nighthawk and that I work well on nights, that is true, but at the end of the day I am tired most of the time and there are effects on the body that I constantly have to battle.
Let’s talk about what our mind and body go through when we are fighting our natural circadian rhythm.
Circadian rhythms are, in part, tied to the 24-hour cycle of the Earth’s rotation and the amount of daylight to which you’re exposed. The circadian clock is essentially a timer that lets various glands know when to release hormones and also controls mood, alertness, body temperature and other aspects of the body’s daily cycle. Do you ever get cold in the early morning hours? I do.
Sleeping during the day, plus the fact that night shift workers commonly on average get less than 6 hours sleep, has been found in multiple studies to cause poor quality sleep. Great, not only are we not getting enough sleep, it is not good quality sleep either. Thank you low serotonin levels!
Now nurses…let’s not kick into nurse hypochondriac mode. Here are some of the physical effects of working midnights.
- long term midnight working (greater than 4 years) decreases the size of the frontal lobe of the brain. Geees mine must be the size of a pea.
- risk of type II diabetes increases due to the changes and impact of insulin activity.
- lower leptin levels (weight regulation hormone) increases our risk of obesity. Along with the nighttime nurse snacking I am sure.
- breast cancer risk increases by 30%.
- increased risk of heart attack, cardiovascular disease, increased blood pressure and increased cholesterol.
- the risk of depression and mood disorders in vulnerable individuals also increases.
These are just a few of the major effects, not to mention when sleep deprived we are more prone to workplace injury, illness and motor vehicle accidents.
I am not going to lie, there have been many times in my career that I have drifted off at the wheel. That quick head jerking revelation that you are too tired to be driving type of experience. It is scary and very dangerous. Driving tired is equivalent to driving under the influence of alcohol.
This vehicle is that of a nurse coming home after a 12 hour midnight shift. She was killed after she fell asleep at the wheel and drove off of the road. She left a husband and 2 young children.
So yes, working midnights is not easy. No, our patients do not sleep all night. We know the risks.Yes, there are tricks and techniques we can do to help minimize the damage that working the night shift has on our lives and our bodies.
In a later post, I will review some tips and techniques to survive working the midnight shift. Until then, be safe. Drink lots of water and take a nap.
Oh and drink a great big cup of coffee for me.
Follow my blog : nurseneedscoffeestat.org for future posts on minimizing the damage of working midnights and alleviating sleep deprivation.