Nurses Working Night Shift: How Does Your Body React to the Change?

4 minute read

In many industries, the night shift is a necessary evil. The same goes for nurses in the medical field. The need for medical attention doesn’t have a curfew, so somebody has to do the job. Unfortunately, employees scheduled with irregular shifts on a regular basis can suffer from a wide array of health issues. 

Working in direct opposition to your circadian rhythm puts wear and tear on the body. Let’s take a closer look at how it affects you physically and how to counteract the effects. 

The Effects of Night Shift Nursing on Nurses

Your circadian rhythm is the natural operating schedule of the human body. Most of the time, it is best to go with the flow of your rhythms. However, work and life aren’t always conducive to that. It is possible to retrain the body to make working the night shift a little easier. If you don’t work a regular schedule or don’t retrain your body properly, there can be detrimental effects. Be aware of these effects of night shift nursing.

Sleep and Melatonin Disruption

Sleep is essential to your overall health. Additionally, sleep reduces stress, repairs injuries, and expels toxins. Working the night shift interferes with your ability to get the quality sleep necessary for these processes. 

The reversal of night and day also suppresses melatonin production and release. Melatonin controls your cycle of waking and sleeping. Decreasing the levels in your body means you won’t get the right amount of quality sleep you need.

Risk of Heart Attack in Night Shift Nurses

Those who work the night shift have a seven percent increase in the likelihood of suffering a heart attack

Increased Risk of Depression

Working the night shift often has an impact on mental health. The possibility of depression and mood disorders have been known to increase as you work the night shift. 

Changes in the Metabolism and Risk of Obesity and Diabetes

Working the night shift interferes with the production and circulation of hormones. Hormones govern your metabolism, especially the hormone leptin, which governs weight, blood sugar, and insulin levels. If your metabolism is thrown off, it increases your risk of obesity and diabetes. This can also cause gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea and ulcers. 

Decreased Levels of Vitamin D

Vitamin D is an essential part of absorbing calcium and good bone growth. Too little vitamin D can lead to a long list of issues including different cancers, depression, and heart disease. Sleeping during the day and working at night severely reduces your Vitamin D intake. 

Combatting the Effects of Working the Night Shift

Working the night shift can’t be helped. Somebody has to do it. However, you aren’t doomed to an endless list of health issues due to your job. Here are a few things you can do to combat the effects. 

Don’t Transition All at Once

The transition to the night shift should be done slowly instead of all at once. It gives your body time to adjust to the new schedule, negating some of the nasty side effects. Be sure to work with your scheduling manager to make the transition as gentle as possible. 

Talk to the People You Live With

If you have a family, it can be difficult to switch to the night shift without everyone’s cooperation. You still have to maintain a balance of essential activities like family time, shopping, and housework. You also need their cooperation to help you get the hours of sleep necessary to function at work. 

Avoid Caffeine and Alcohol

Caffeine is a stimulant used to give you a quick boost of energy. It stays in your system for hours and can prevent you from sleeping when you need to. While alcohol might make you fall asleep faster, it reduces the quality of your sleep. This interferes with the body’s ability to repair itself.

Soak Up the Sun

Even when you are working the night shift, you should try to get at least 30 minutes of sunlight every day. Go for a walk, do some gardening, or just sit outside and read. Whatever it takes to get the Vitamin D you need, do it. 

Create a Good Sleep Environment

Help yourself sleep better and longer by creating the right sleep environment. Keep the room cool, dark, and quiet. If you have to, wear a sleep mask and earplugs. Turn off electronics two hours before bed, and make sure you don’t have any nicotine at least three hours before bed. 

Eat Well

A healthy diet will help counteract the effects of working the night shift. You might feel like consuming less at night while you work, but it is important to eat the same amount you would during the day. Frequent light meals and healthy snacks will help avoid drowsiness in the late hours. Eat foods that are easy to digest and drink lots of water.

Make the Best of Your Breaks

Short 20-minute naps can help restore your energy levels and help you feel more alert during your shift. Don’t go longer than forty-five minutes though, as you risk slipping into a deeper sleep. 

Find Nursing Jobs Near Me With CynaMed

CynaMed is a healthcare staffing solution in the greater Pittsburgh area. Whether you are looking for a full or part-time position, a temporary or permanent job, we are here to help you find what you need. Contact us to learn more and take a closer look at our nursing resources.

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