Nurses are hard-working, strong, and compassionate. In a sense, nurses are very much like superheroes. While they are superheroes, they are also humans, and humans get burnt out at times. Night shift nurses are notorious for being the ones to get burnt out. Understanding the root causes behind night shift burnout is key to managing one’s health and wellness and avoiding that burnout.
The circadian rhythm is the body’s natural way to regulate feelings of sleepiness and wakefulness over a 24-hour period. This complex timekeeping system is controlled by an area of the brain that responds to light, which is why humans are most alert while the sun is shining and are ready to sleep when it’s dark outside. The circadian clock is essentially a timer that lets various glands know when to release hormones and also controls mood, alertness, body temperature and other aspects of the body’s daily cycle.
Working a night shift forces one’s body to operate on a schedule that goes against the circadian rhythm. Bad things could happen when one goes against nature.
Effects of Working Night Shift:
- Increases risk for cancer- There is strong evidence that night shift work may increase the risk of cancer, especially breast cancer.
- Increase risk of heart disease- Research shows that night shift workers have a higher risk for heart disease. This may be due to the effect that disturbed sleep patterns have on blood pressure and circulation. In general, the risk seems to increase the longer a person works night shift.
- Increase risk for depression- Night shift work may directly affect brain chemistry. One study showed that when compared to day shift workers, night shift workers had significantly lower serotonin levels, one of the main hormones that controls mood.
- Changes to metabolism- Working night shift interferes with the production and circulation of vital hormones such as leptin, which plays a major role in regulating weight, blood sugar, and insulin levels.
- Increased risk of obesity- The link between night shift work and obesity may be related to several factors. One factor may be the unhealthy eating habits of night shift workers, coupled with an inactive lifestyle. Another factor may be hormonal imbalances caused by the disruption of the circadian rhythm.
- Diabetes- Insulin resistance and type II Diabetes may develop in night shift workers due to the imbalance of vital hormones.
- Increased risk of gastrointestinal problems- Studies show that night shift workers have a higher incidence of GI problems such as peptic ulcers, and GERD.
- Suppression of melatonin- Melatonin is responsible for controlling the sleep and wake cycle. Decreases in melatonin levels during the day make it difficult to sleep. Furthermore, you won’t sleep deeply or get enough sleep for your body to repair itself. As a result, you may suffer from long-term sleep deprivation, which is incredibly bad for your health.
Ways to Avoid Night Shift Burnout:
- Transition slowly- The internal circadian clock is very slow to adapt. If you are new to night shift, it is important to make the transition from working days to working nights very slowly. This will give your body enough time to adjust to the new schedule.
- Enlist the help of family/friends- One of the mistakes that many nurses make is that they do not sleep after working a night shift. This is a big NO! We are not robots; we are humans, and sleep is essential. In order to balance essential family activities such as housework, family time, kids’ activities, etc. it is important to develop a strong support system of family and friends that will help you.
- Avoid caffeine- Any nurse who has ever worked night shift could agree that this is a difficult tip to follow. While caffeine gives you a quick boost of energy to keep you awake and get you through your shift, it stays in your system for hours. This could interrupt your sleep after completing your shift.
- Avoid alcohol- Alcohol should be avoided because while it could help you fall asleep faster, it also reduces rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep is a restorative phase of the sleep cycle that is essential to helping the body repair itself.
- Create darkness- Minimize exposure to bright lights when you have completed your shift. If possible, wear sunglasses until you go to sleep. Choose a quiet and dark environment to sleep. Pull blinds and curtains or wear a night mask in order to make it as dark as possible.
- Set a routine- Instead of taking small naps throughout the day, consider sleeping for a long stretch at the same time every day. This will train your body to adapt a new circadian rhythm.
- Do not rotate shifts- Rotating between day and night shifts will put the circadian rhythm in a constant state of flux. Switching shifts does not give the circadian rhythm the opportunity to adapt. If possible, pick a shift and stick to it.
- Eat well and exercise- Since many of the risks of shift work are tied to obesity and metabolic syndrome, step up your efforts to prevent them. Exercising regularly, eating well, and keeping a healthy weight will make a difference.
The Circadian Code by Satchin Panda, PhD | PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/592260/the-circadian-code-by-satchin-panda-phd/9781635652437/