Top tips for working night shift: Aged care workers share their advice

Night shift nurse

Performing all the tasks that need to be completed at night in the face of encroaching tiredness can feel like a superhuman effort, but over time many learn to manage it – and some even grow to prefer working at night. It can fit in with family life, you can work more autonomously because there are fewer staff on duty, and there are also penalty pay rates.

One young member of HelloCare’s Aged Care Worker Support Group, who was just about to work her first night shift, recently asked the group for advice.

We hold a certain respect for those who work the night shift. The work is difficult, but it is absolutely essential for the care of older people, both in residential care and at home. 

So, what advice did our poster receive? How do experienced night shift workers do it?

Tip #1: Sustenance

  • The most-recommended tip was ‘coffee.’ The well-known stimulant is essential in helping many get through the long, dark hours.
  • Snacks are also a big favourite: Sweets, fruit juice, protein shakes and muesli bars were listed as must-haves. Topping up energy levels can help push through feelings of tiredness.
  • Try to eat fresh food and healthy meals.
  • One night shift worker said she sips on the well-known vitamin supplement Berocca throughout the night to keep her energy levels topped up.

Tip #2: Workflow

  • Keep busy.
  • Do as many jobs as possible early in the shift, especially the big jobs, when you are freshest.
  • If there’s a lull, prepare paperwork, see if you can restock supplies or do some filing.
  • Check on residents regularly, noting how often checks are required by policies.
  • Write fact-based notes as you go, don’t rely on your memory at the end of the night.
  • Take time to get to know your senior staff.
  • Take a book, and have puzzles or games on your phone.
  • Take your breaks.
  • If you can, you might be able to take a power nap.
  • If you feel sleepy, step out into the fresh air (which can be particularly bracing  in the middle of winter!).
  • Be thorough and respectful at handover in the morning.

Tip #3: Get organised

  • Having a partner at home to relieve you of at least some of the housework was a sensible – and fair – recommendation. When you’re tired, a build up of housework at home can make matters seem worse. Explain this to your loved ones, and assign tasks if necessary. Sharing the household chores is really vital at times like this.
  • Many who responded to the post revealed they also do four nights in a row, and there was debate about which night is the toughest. Many agreed the first night is relatively easy, but the second and third nights – when exhaustion sets in and you still have days to go – present physical and psychological challenges for the night shift worker.

Tip #4: Preparing for sleep

  • Routine, routine, routine. It doesn’t seem to matter too much what the routine is, but work out what suits you and stick to it. Some prefer to go straight to bed after work, while others need time to wind down. 
  • Watching TV, getting organised for the next day, exercise, showering and eating a meal were all recommended as good ways to wind down after night shift.

Tip #5: Prepare for sleeping during the day

  • If you don’t already own them, invest in ear plugs and an eye mask.
  • If you can, use blackout blinds or shutters.
  • Put a sign on your front door or bedroom door asking visitors or loved ones ‘Do not disturb. Night shift worker is sleeping!’
  • Play relaxing music at home.
  • Keep a bottle of water beside your bed.

The original poster who asked for advice said the feedback she received was extremely beneficial – and she ended up enjoying night shift so much, she has put her name down to do more!

“The suggestions about what to bring and what to eat were most useful.

“I was nervous, but as the nights went on I was less nervous about working and more nervous about falling asleep! 

“I am was blessed to be a good day sleeper so the nights were easier than expected. 

“I often had to pace back and forth drinking my energy drink to stay awake. 

“I checked my patients regularly and, because of the type of people I was caring for, I mostly had someone awake all night, keeping it interesting!”

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