Shiftwork is something that nearly every healthcare professional has to deal with at some point in their career. Just when you get used to working a certain shift, it’s time to switch up and change over to another. This can wreak havoc on your personal schedule and internal clock, making it hard to cope both physically and mentally. Shift work can also take a toll on your family, as their schedule is disrupted by your altered availability, varied meal and sleep times, and more. How do you handle this necessary evil with the least disruption? Here are a few tips that can help with shift transitions:
Adjust Sleep Patterns
There is no easy way to quickly go from an early bird to a creature of the night, no matter how you hard you try. One of the best ways to begin this transition is to ease your way into the changeover during the break between shift types. Typically, you’ll have a few days between a block of day shift to night shift, so use that time to alter your sleep patterns by a couple of hours at a time.
Light can play a huge role in your body’s ability to change its pattern of restfulness. Invest in blackout curtains if you need to get your eight hours during daylight. Spend time in well-light areas when waking up after dark. While it’s not a perfect substitute for real day and night, it can help you to adjust your sleep cycles to get the rest you need to perform well at work.
When working shift work, it can be easy to fall out of good self-care habits. Meals are sometimes the first thing to go, as your new schedule might not line up with your family’s eating plans. Rather than reaching for convenience foods, ask for someone to prepare and refrigerate a plate of leftovers for a meal that you miss at home. Stock your fridge and pack a lunch bag with healthy options, instead of hitting up the vending machines. Also, be sure to create a time for exercise in your new schedule.
Create a New Family Routine
Adjusting to a new shift schedule can be hard on your family, as well, especially if there are children involved. Be sure that your spouse or other caregivers understand that your sleep schedule is important and should be respected by everyone in the house. Choose a meal that will become your family’s “dinner hour.” Even if it’s just sitting down together over a 7:00 am bowl of cereal, that quality time is important. Schedule family outings and activities that work around your work and sleep schedule so that you’re able to be a part of fun events, as well.
While it can be difficult to handle shift transitions, with a little work it can be done. Start as early as you can and ease into the changes. Be sure that the whole family is on board and understands the new schedule. And don’t forget to take care of yourself.
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