Female nurses may experience reduced functionality toward the end of a night shift.

Night Shift may Affect Women in Nursing More than Men

Over the course of their careers, nurses will work a considerable amount of hours, dedicating quality time to patients of varying degrees of health. While their time commitments often depend on the line of medicine they’re in, or if they’re operating within a specific specialty, it’s common for these healthcare providers to split their assignments between both day and night shifts.

This type of schedule can be difficult to maintain, although many nurses become acclimated to it once it becomes more commonplace in their regimen. Plenty of research has been completed over time to examine the effects of night shifts on the working individual. The results include a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity, as well as a stronger chance of developing depression, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Circadian rhythm interruptions can impact functionality

There may be another factor increasing the possibility of physical and mental health issues. A 2016 study from the University of Surrey, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that the impact of the night shift on a person’s circadian rhythm can result in decreased functionality and cognitive performance, as well as alterations in mood for individuals working a night shift.

The research included a number of professions with these types of hourly assignments, but did specify that those operating in the fields of nursing and law enforcement could see significant effects. While those findings may have been expected by researchers, the significant differences between men and women working these jobs were among the most telling portions of their analysis.

Not only do some elements and outcomes of circadian rhythm vary between the two sexes, but changes to that internal clock produced different impacts. Researchers discovered that early-morning performance was more impaired in women than in men. This coincides with the end of a night shift; meaning female nurses – and women working in other late-night professions – may experience decreased functionality toward the end of their assignment.

It’s crucial for nurses of all sexes to perform to the best of their ability, no matter their shift. Follow these tips and tricks to make the most out of your assigned hours, without forfeiting your mental functionality and wherewithal:

Take advantage of breaks

During their shifts, nurses may feel like they get into a productive, working rhythm. This cadence enables these healthcare providers to feel at the top of their game, as they interact with various patients and medical situations. When the time comes for nurses to take a break, it may be difficult for them to adjust that tempo – even if they deserve, and are due for, some much-needed respite from being on their feet.

Take our word for it: Don’t skimp on those breaks. These off-periods were created to give nurses the rest they need to truly succeed at their job and maintain strong performance. Take that pause to read a book, catch a short nap or talk with your peers, and reap the benefits of the shift hiatus. A 2011 study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that short, regular diversions lead to improved focus. Instead of skipping your breaks to maintain your work rhythm, make sure you’re utilizing these intermissions, as they can improve your overall ability on the job.

Keep up your energy

Working a night shift requires nurses to maintain their stamina, mental sharpness and physical strength. This is a lot to keep in mind, but a healthy diet and regular snacking schedule can help these healthcare providers keep their energy high during long assignments and with tough cases.

Caffeine can help night-shift nurses remain alert and stave off sleepiness, but too much can leave workers feeling hyper alert and potentially frazzled. Nurses will need to do more to keep their productivity at a steady level during their time on the job, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Small, more frequent meals or snacks will aid in efficiency, but won’t cause nurses to crash throughout their shifts or right after they’re done working. A study published in The Journal of Adult Health recommended items that are high in protein, low in fat and contain complex carbohydrates, such as raw salads, nuts, fruits and vegetables.

Group night shifts together

This practice isn’t for the faint of heart, but it could help nurses maintain a more regulated schedule. It’s not uncommon for healthcare providers to be required to work night shifts a few days per week. Instead of going from daily assignment to a nightly one, try to group all of your overnight work together.

By doing this, nurses can create a regimen that works for them during the times when they are on night shift, and then set another schedule for their day assignments. For the former that may mean getting off at 7 a.m., sleeping until 1 p.m. then going to the gym for an hour or two before they have to be back at work. Once they’ve finished their last night shift of the week, healthcare providers can catch up on sleep and other social activities during their time off or when they’re back on a day shift.

Know your limits

Everyone has his or her own mental and physical constraints. While it’s normal to attempt to push past these limits, doing so too frequently can have serious negative consequences. Healthcare providers who overextend themselves on the job and in their personal lives may encounter any of the aforementioned medical conditions – heart disease, diabetes, etc. – that much sooner. Nurses may also notice their ability to care for their patients dwindling as well.

It’s important for medical professionals to know their limits before they experience unfavorable results that could impact both their own health and that of individuals they attempt to treat. If you find yourself struggling during night shifts – or day shifts, for that matter – talk to your manager, direct supervisor or colleagues. They may have tips to share as well as the capability to alter your schedule – or swap shifts – for a period of time to give you a much-needed respite or return to a more normal routine. By being upfront with those around you, you can prevent medical accidents or mistakes that will impact your career and the well-being of your patients.

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