Survival tips for night shifts and on-call duties

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Working night shifts and being on-call are common responsibilities for many professions including healthcare professionals, but managing these irregular hours can be a significant challenge. Adapting to a nocturnal schedule impacts not just your sleep but also your mental and physical health, social life, and overall wellbeing.

The health and well-being of the profession and the doctors who we place is important to us, that's why we have compiled some survival ideas (for doctors and hospitals) to best manage these demanding duties.

1. Prioritise sleep

Your body and brain need quality sleep to function optimally. Try to create a dark, quiet, and cool environment for sleeping during the day. Blackout curtains, eye masks, and white noise machines can be invaluable. Stick to a regular sleep schedule as much as possible, even on your days off, to help maintain your body’s internal clock.

2. Nutrition and hydration

Eating healthy and staying hydrated can significantly impact your energy levels and cognitive function. Avoid heavy meals and caffeine close to your bedtime. Instead, opt for light, nutritious meals and snacks that release energy slowly. Keep a water bottle handy and sip regularly to stay hydrated.

3. Manage your energy

It can be helpful to break the night into several smaller segments, setting small, manageable goals for each to keep your motivation up. If possible, take short breaks to walk around or stretch. This can help to boost your circulation and alertness.

4. Mental preparation

Prepare mentally for the night ahead by planning your tasks and setting priorities. Knowing what’s expected and having a plan can reduce anxiety and make your shift feel more manageable.

5. Use caffeine wisely

Caffeine can be a useful tool if used strategically. Timing your caffeine intake can help you stay alert during dips in your natural circadian rhythm, typically in the early hours of the morning.

6. Social and emotional support

Stay connected with your colleagues, friends, and family. Sharing your experiences and challenges with others in similar situations can provide emotional support and valuable tips. Consider professional support if you find it particularly tough to cope.

7. Transitioning off night shifts

After your last night shift, try to minimize sleep during the day so you can return to a normal sleep pattern more quickly. A short nap when you get home can help you recharge without ruining your nighttime sleep.

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8. Use light to your advantage

Exposure to light plays an important role in regulating your sleep-wake cycle. Use bright lights during your shift when you need to stay awake and avoid bright light when you’re winding down towards the end of your shift.

What hospitals can do to support doctors on night shifts:

But the onus is not only on the doctor, here are some tips for what hospitals can do to support their staff. Supporting doctors during night shifts and on-call duties is important for maintaining their well-being and ensuring high-quality patient care. Here are some practical tips hospitals can implement:

  • Adequate Staffing: Ensure that night shifts and on-call duties are adequately staffed to manage workload and reduce stress. Overworking during these periods can lead to burnout and medical errors.

  • Rest Facilities: Provide comfortable and quiet rest facilities for doctors to take breaks and, if necessary, get some sleep during longer shifts. These areas should be easily accessible and well-equipped with beds and necessary amenities.

  • Nutrition Options: Offer healthy meal and snack options during night shifts. Access to nutritious food can help maintain energy levels and improve performance.

  • Mental Health Support: Establish a support system for mental health. This could include access to counseling services, peer support groups, and stress management programs.

  • Training and Preparation: Provide specific training for handling the unique challenges of night shifts and on-call work. This can include strategies for managing sleep schedules and coping with the physical and psychological demands of irregular hours.

  • Feedback Mechanism: Create an open channel for feedback where doctors can express their concerns and suggest improvements regarding night shift conditions and on-call duties. Regularly review and adapt policies based on this feedback to better meet their needs.

  • Recognition and incentives: Acknowledge the hard work and dedication of doctors working these challenging shifts. Consider implementing incentive programs that recognize their commitment and compensate them appropriately.

By implementing these tips, hospitals can significantly improve the working conditions for doctors on night shifts and on-call duties, enhancing their job satisfaction and overall well-being.

Night shifts and on-call duties are challenging but manageable with the right strategies. By prioritising sleep, managing your diet, and seeking support, you can mitigate the impact of these demanding work schedules. Remember, it’s important to monitor your health and wellbeing and seek professional help if you struggle to cope.

Jordy Black
02 June 2024Article by Jordy BlackMedrecruit Editor