We all know that the care sector is never nine-to-five. Residents in nursing homes rely on dedicated healthcare professionals to attend to their needs 24 hours a day, and it is only thanks to passionate HCAs and nurses that this is possible. A night shift will usually comprise of both routine checks and responding to resident calls. Night shift teams are also usually smaller, with less managerial and administrative support. However, while some care home staff positively enjoy the slower pace and sense of calm that comes with burning the midnight oil, others can find it challenging to adapt to a nocturnal routine.
For those in the second category, here’s our top tips for healthcare assistants on managing night shifts.
Bank some sleep
It is important to ensure you are well rested before each shift. However, when you first begin a stretch of night shifts, this may be easier said than done. Even if you don’t feel the land of nod is beckoning, set aside some time and a quiet space to try and get some shut eye. If you find it hard to sleep in the day to begin with, the chances are you will soon adapt as you become accustomed to being awake all night. If you are able to, it may be worth investing in a blackout blind or, if this is not an option, get your hands on some earplugs and an eye mask – the light and sounds of everyday life can be distracting when you are trying to drop off.
Fuel your body
When keeping unsociable hours, it is all too easy for good eating habits to slip by the wayside. However, it is important that you fuel your body with the nutrients it needs to keep up with a demanding work schedule. Put aside some time each day to put together – and sit down to eat – healthy meals which release energy slowly. Complex carbohydrates – which are found in peas, beans, whole grains and vegetables, for example – work well. During your shift, it can be so tempting to reach for a fistful of sweets, a tin of Monster, or a strong cup of sweet coffee when you begin to flag – but your body won’t thank you when the inevitable sugar crash hits. If you can, try instead to stay hydrated by drinking water and snack on bananas or nuts instead of chocolate or Starburst. By all means treat yourself to a hot drink, but be mindful of when and how often you are drinking these – too much caffeine before the end of your shift can play havoc with your plans to sleep after.
Make self-care a priority
Looking after your body is important, but don’t forget to take care of your mental health as well. Working nights can be tough going emotionally, so throughout your shift make time during breaks to step outside, take some deep breaths and enjoy the stillness of the night – if only for a few minutes. It is also important to allocate some ‘me’ time before or after your shift to do something you enjoy for an hour – maybe read a book, take a bath, or catch up with a friend. Try not to fall into the routine of waking up, rushing to work, and then coming home again and falling straight into bed – it is easily done, but will only end in unhappiness or burnout.
Helping healthcare assistants to manage nightshifts
Whether you are working to a rota, or beginning a long-term night-time position, the above tips should help your body and mind to adjust to your new regime. However, it is also worth noting that while night shifts are part and parcel of many care contracts, some shift patterns may suit you better than others.
If you are a healthcare assistant managing nightshifts, and your rota really isn’t working for you, consider finding an employer that offers a shift pattern that fits your lifestyle and existing commitments better. Whether that be two nights on, two nights off, working nights only at the weekend, or a long block of nights followed by a long block of days, we all have a preferred way of working – and in today’s candidate driven market, you can afford to explore your options.