Managing Night Shifts as an International Doctor

Night shift

Due to the nature of the medical profession, there may be days or weeks when you are working night shifts. Patient care is of paramount importance for the NHS, and round-the-clock care is imperative.

As complex as the human body is, so is our circadian rhythm which is also known as our body clock. This clock, like any other physical clock, is tuned as per the time of the sun rising and setting in our country. Night shifts not only impact our circadian rhythm but also the chemical changes that occur between waking up and going to sleep. This effect is quite similar to the phenomena of jet lag.

Working with the NHS will involve periods where you will have to work the night shift. Whether you are a night owl or an early riser you will benefit from these top tips that will help you cope with night shifts.

8 top tips for doctors working night shifts

1. Stay Hydrated

Dehydration affects the flow of oxygen, making you feeling fatigued. This leaves you feeling more tired and a lot less alert. Staying hydrated throughout your shift is the key to staying alert and energetic. Drink lots of water and fluids throughout the day.

2. Regular Exercise

Exercising as we know has amazing health benefits, but most of us are unaware of the positive impact it has on sleep. It improves the quality of sleep and decreases insomnia. Many NHS Trusts offer a gym membership, gym classes or social activities for doctors. Find out which ones you can get involved with.

3. Power naps

A short power nap of 10-20 minutes during breaks can reduce stress, increase efficiency, and improve cognitive functioning. Short periods of rest will help keep up your energy levels. However, be sure not to sleep too long or you’ll risk making yourself groggy.

4. Limit your caffeine intake

Caffeine may provide you with a much-needed boost at the start of the day. However, it’s a good idea to limit your caffeine towards the end of your shift. This can make it difficult for you to fall asleep when you get home which will, in turn, affect your sleep cycle.

5. Take smaller meals

To keep our energy levels up before a 12-hour shift gorging on one giant meal may sound perfect. However, this may make you sleepy and lethargic, so instead have smaller healthier meals throughout your hospital shift. Try to fill yourself up on fruit, vegetables, and salads.

6. Stay on the move

Night shifts are typically slower than day shifts. Try and stay active or on the move, to keep your body moving during your shift. This will keep your blood flowing and your mind awake.

7. Sleep well

It might be tricky but try and get a minimum of 7-9 hours of sleep & rest to function well after a night shift. To get a sound sleep keep your phone on silent, ensure there is little to no sound in the background, draw the curtains to mimic night-time, and aim to go to bed with a clear mind. Meditation before bed can help with this.

8. Unwind

Allow yourself to unwind when you return home after your night shift the same way you would after a day shift. Reading a book or spending some quality time with your loved ones and relaxing will help you start fresh the next day.

Night shifts are an inevitable part of providing 24-hour care. But the above tips might make it easier for you to look after yourself as well as the health and safety of your patients. Remember to look after yourself as well as you do your patients!

At Remedium, we understand the stress endured by professionals in the healthcare sector. Longer periods of pressure and constant stress often lead to anxiety and doctors are no exception. It is this knowledge that led us to start the Healing Our Healers initiative which aims to ensure that the mental well-being of our doctors remains part of our national conversation and that doctors know that help is there for them when they need it.

We hope you found these top 8 night shift tips helpful. If you’d like to read more about top tips for night shift duties, take a look at the Sleepy Head Blog. 

Every Thursday we post practical top tips for aspiring NHS doctors. We cover everything from finding accommodation in the UK, accessing childcare, visas, and much much more.

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