7 tips for getting through your night shift at a care home

There’s a common misconception about working the night shift in care homes and nursing homes. Some might assume that because residents are going to be sleeping there’s less to do. However, often there’s just as much work, and the shift itself comes with its own unique challenges – most understandably fighting the urge to fall asleep.

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7 tips for getting through your night shift at a care home

There’s common misconception about working the night shift in care homes and nursing homesSome might assume that because residents are going to be sleeping there’s less to do. However, often there’s just as much workand the shift itself comes with its own unique challenges – most understandably fighting the urge to fall asleep.  

Although key tasks like performing assessments and creating care plans are more likely to take place during the day, the night teams are usually smaller, there’s more responsibility per person and there might not be the same level of managerial or administrative support.  

It’s usually the night carer’s responsibility to perform routine checks, respond to resident calls, change cathetersassist with mobility and incontinence, complete admin work, clean and get the home ready for the day shift. Whether you’re on a rotating shift pattern and are getting ready for your first night or you’re starting a permanent night shift job, here are our top seven tips for enduring the night. 

1. Prepare yourself

Jumping into the deep end and tackling your first night shift without preparation is entirely possible but there’s a good chance you will become exhausted by morning. Ideally, you will want to have as much sleep as possible before your shift starts but snoozing during the day doesn’t come naturally to a lot of people. It’s something you have to adjust to but can be achieved relatively quickly. 

Beginning this transition process one or two days earlier by trying to stay awake throughout the night is common practice. This extra time allows you to train your mind and body to become accustomed to a new sleep pattern before your big day so you benefit from being well-rested. If you have the luxury of doing this, this is your best bet at minimising burnout before completing your night shift. 

2. Avoid energy drinks

For quick bursts of energy, most of us turn to caffeinated drinks like tea and coffee. There’s also a wide range of cheap and flavoursome energy drinks to choose from, which on the surface, seem like the most effective way to stay awake. However, we don’t recommend stocking up on these before your night shift 

Due to the sugar and caffeine, sweet energy drinks can become addictive to the point where you believe you need to keep drinking them to function properly. And when consumed in high amounts, these beverages can have negative side effects. They’re usually very high in calories, leading to weight gain, and can cause your energy levels to crash after a couple hours leaving you feeling even more tired and dehydrated than you normally would.  

Getting headaches and feeling groggy isn’t how you’d want to spend the day shift, so stick to drinking plenty of plain old water and moderate amounts of tea or coffee to get you through the night. Caffeine can stay in your system for 5-10 hours so plan your drinks accordingly if you’re approaching the end of your shift and are planning on sleeping anytime soon after. 

3. Take healthy food with you

When you’re working a night shift, you need to give your body and mind the right kind of fuel for the job which involves making healthier choices. Fruit, veggies and slow-releasing energy foods like proteins (meat, fish, oats)ordinary carbohydrates and grains are the best options for generating and managing healthy energy levels over long time periods. Although ‘meal deal’ foods and vending machine snacks are convenient and tasty, there are a lot of downsides to eating them.  

For example, snacks which contain refined carbohydrates, like biscuits, cakes, white rice, white pasta, white bread, sweetened cereal, pastries and fizzy drinks, don’t have much nutritional benefit at all. They lack fibre, can lead to weight gain, can leave you hungrier and cause your blood sugar levels to spike. Even salty foods like crisps can contribute to dehydration and headaches.  

Making small changes to your diet, like switching to wholemeal (also called ‘brown’) bread,  wholegrain rice and wholegrain pasta, can help introduce more fibre, vitamins, minerals, protein, antioxidants and plant compounds into your body, keeping you alert and healthier. Choosing fruit, berries, nuts, seeds and vegetables over junk food can also save you money in the long run. 

4. Get fresh air

When possible, most-likely on your break, try to go outside and stretch your legs. Deep breathing and getting fresh air increases our blood oxygen levels, causing us to become more alert and refreshed. When we work, breathing isn’t something we tend to focus on – that’s why we can feel fatigued after being stuck indoors for long periods of time even when we haven’t been doing anything strenuous. Being outside is also a chance to step away from work and bring our stress levels down.  

If you must remain inside, keep your space well ventilated by opening windows and doors. Being in a warm, stuffy environment can quite easily cause you to feel drowsy, especially if you’re going through a quieter period.  

5. Stay active

Caring for others is a very demanding job. More often than not you are on your feet for hours before you get a chance to properly sit down. Just because you’re on the night shift it doesn’t mean it will be any easier. However, if you do find yourself in moment of rest, that is also likely to be the time you start flagging as your adrenaline starts decreasing. Staying productive or performing simple exercises such as stretchincan help you power through so you don’t lose too much momentum. 

6. Work-life balance

Remember, you still need time before or after your shift to enjoy yourself. Falling into a cycle where the only things you do are work and sleep can badly impact on your mental wellbeing and end up affecting your performance. Just like being on the day shift, allocating a couple of hours before or after your shift for self-care and things that make you feel good can work wondersBecause of the unsociable hours, it’s important to catch up with family and friends regularly in the small windows of opportunity you’ll have. 

7. Set up your bedroom just for sleeping

When you’re back home, after a bit of downtime you’ll want to restThe first few days might not be too easy if your body isn’t used to this new routine. To give yourself the best chance of dozing off faster, your bedroom should be a relaxing environment that you associate with sleep. If you eat meals, watch TV, listen to loud music or do any activities that cause you to become more alert, it may make switching off your mind more difficult 

Even if you don’t watch TV or use your computer but have the equipment close by, this can subconsciously work against you because your brain doesn’t connect that activity with what you’re trying to accomplish. Making your space cosy and positioning your electronics out of sight will help yobreak this link. 

On a normal night having a TV near your bed might not be a problem. But after a night shift you’ll also be battling the sights and sounds of the world happening outside your window, so any small changes you can make could be the key to a great day’s sleep. It’s also a good idea to prepare yourself by buying ear plugs, eye masks and blackout blinds or curtains to help protect you froany distractions outside of your control. 

Good luck! You’ll be great

Changing your sleep pattern and adjusting to a new routine will be the biggest challenge. Avoid falling into any traps that would make you behave differently to if you were working the day shift (i.e. developing a bad diet or social life and avoiding exercise) 

With a little preparation and by looking after your physical and mental wellbeing you should naturally adapt easier to working nights. Once you’re at work, the job at hand will keep you motivated and on your toes but there may be brief moments in the earlier hours of the morning where you feel yourself getting tired. Stay focused and alert by keeping yourself busy and before you know it your shift will be over and you will be able to rest! 

Using CareDocs

CareDocs has several benefits and features that support care workers through their night shift. Our digital care management system is most well-known for removing time consuming admin tasks from the care processallowing care staff more time to focus on providing an accurate and effective service 

Administrative tasks are among throutine responsibilities which can cause us to flag because it’s generally not stimulating work. Relying on paper systems can slow you down and increase the chances of human error – especially when feeling tired.  

CareDocs enables you to record chart entries directly into our software, forms can be completed on screen and reports are automatically generated from previously entered data. Any care staff member can create handover report in seconds to see what events have taken place over a certain time period for an instant update on their residents. There’s no fussing with searching for or transporting physical files, folders or stationery. 

Our comprehensive and person-centred Care Plan contains 23 care sections including Elimination, Dementia, Skin Integrity, Mobility, Breathing, Nutrition and Hydration. You can find the best plan of care for a resident in a matter of moments on mobile devices and record your care remotely using the powerful point of care platform CareDocs Cloud Portal. 

Strong communication is a crucial component in delivering consistent and outstanding care. All staff have access to our Message Centre feature, allowing you to send secure and instant messages through the system to notify your colleagues on different shifts of anything they should be aware of. Your message will appear on the recipient’s screen immediately after they have logged into CareDocs. 

For more information on how CareDocs can digitally transform your business, please book a demo, contact us on 0330 056 3333 or email sales@caredocs.co.uk 

Originally published on April 13, 2021
Article updated on October 19, 2021

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