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Do you have any tips to help nurses adapt to working the nightshift?

Night shift nurses are challenged with delivering patient care while combating the effects of working hours counterintuitive to their internal body clocks. Human beings are internally programmed to be awake during the day and to sleep during the night. When one shifts his or her body clock from days to nights, circadian rhythms are disrupted.

Working the night shift requires you to train your body to reverse its natural sleep-wake cycle. Our senses play a major role in the ability to adapt to the night shift.

Night shift nurses should pay particular attention to their exposure to light prior to sleeping. Nurses who work the night shift, might want to consider wearing sunglasses on the way home from work (Blachowicz and Letizia 2006). They should also reduce the amount of light exposure in their sleeping quarters. Placing room darkening shades on windows can filter out sunlight. Another approach is wearing a sleep mask.

Daytime sounds can disrupt sleep, as well. Common external sounds that interfere with sleep include traffic, delivery trucks, lawn mowers, garbage trucks, and children playing. Sounds such as televisions and radios playing, pets barking/meowing/scratching, and clocks chiming occur within the house. Nurses who are naturally light sleepers may find it difficult to sleep during the day. Sound-canceling devices or earplugs may be helpful for those who have difficulty sleeping during the day.

Reference: Blachowicz, E. and Letizia, M. 2006. The challenges of shift work. MEDSURG Nursing, 15(5): 274-279.

—Debbie Buchwach, BSN, RN-BC, education consultant in the Center for Learning and Change Management at the Oregon Health & Science University Hospital in Portland

(April 2009)