It’s no surprise to you all, that I work a lot of night shifts. You see my regular post-night shift rituals that include attempting to beautify myself to no avail, and being a wide range of delirious, confused, slap happy, and just plain zombie.
As an Emergency Medicine physician, my schedule changes on the reg. Although schedule will always vary by the group or hospital that you work for, most Emergency Med docs will work night shifts. It is less likely to find a group where you work the same shift and have a regimented schedule. I actually prefer the variety. I don’t think I could work purely night shift, like nurses do. I want to be a day person and a night person! But at the same time, I imagine the regimented schedule (even if it is night shift) is just better for your body, over switching constantly.
You guys ask me constantly about my routines, schedule, tips and tricks, etc. Well here it (finally) is!
First things first… it took me a year (my entire intern year) to get my body used to NOT having a schedule. I was tired and felt very low energy ALL the time, for about a year. I tried routine after routine, before I figured out what worked best for me.
So that being said, BE PATIENT. Figuring these things out, is not easy and it takes time. In fact, your body will tell you what it wants. You just have to listen.
My favorite “routines” (I say that lightly because nothing in my life is routine) may not work for you, just as yours may not work for me. So again, don’t try to fit yourself into someone else’s routine. My night shift is scheduled from 9pm to 5am. For many of you those times may be variable but here’s how I tackle these shifts!
When I’m going ON to a night shift, I utilize the day as I would any other day, with the exception of trying to sleep in as late as I want. I allow myself as much sleep as I feel I need, but I don’t force myself to stay up late the night before, just to try and sleep in and get acclimatized to the night shift. I tried that in residency and it didn’t work at all. So when I wake up on these days, I lounge HARDCORE. I almost always work out on these days, at some point, preferably in the morning because I want to wind down during the afternoon and evening, and catch a nap if I can. That being said, I never force myself to nap. I end up more frustrated than not. I never do anything busy or overly social on the day I am starting a night shift. This will cause me to be way too tired and feel as if my day was rushed.
On my first night shift I typically get pretty tired around 2am, since I’ve been up all day. I prefer to use coffee or tea about halfway through my night shift, for an extra push. Regardless of if I drink caffeine during the shift, I hit the pillow hard and fast when I get home and I have no trouble getting to sleep.
I go to bed immediately when I get home and I set my alarm for 8 hours later, if I am going onto another night shift. I do wake up multiple times (especially after my first night shift), that’s inevitable, but I force myself to get back in bed and try to sleep. I NEVER look at my phone during these times. I use the clock in my room to see the time.
When I get up from bed, I make coffee/breakfast and carry out the morning (except it’s like 3pm) like I would any other morning. My meals are similar as any other day and I actually prefer my biggest meal to be “lunch” which is Chris’ dinner, because I don’t like eating anything heavy later in the night. To be honest, I don’t typically work out on my night-sandwich days. I am tired and honestly can use the rest. Plus my mind is confused and the last thing I want to do is get up off the couch, knowing I have another night shift coming. Sometimes I will go on a walk with Chris, or do a quick Insanity workout, but that’s rare. I make these my rest days. Many people do better and have more energy with working out before a shift, but when I’m constantly switching, it just doesn’t feel good for me.
I typically do 2-3 night shifts in a row. I try to never do more than that. When I am coming OFF of a night shift I sleep when I get home however I only allow about 4 hours. I would honestly sleep all day if I didn’t set an alarm. I tend to book a workout class for this late morning/early afternoon so that I have a reason to get up. There is NO way I would do an independent workout on these days (I have tried so many times) so a class keeps me motivated. Even though I am super tired, limiting my sleep allows me to go to bed at a normal hour and get up at a normal time the next morning.
I used to try and stay up all day when transitioning off of night shifts, in residency. I always fell asleep, no matter what I did, and I typically lost my entire day. The routine I described in the paragraph above gives me a good chance at enjoying at least some of the day.
I honestly think that allowing myself to sleep long hours and veg on the couch without any to-do list on either of these days flanking my night shifts, helps me get through it. Sometimes I feel like crap and other days I’m ready to rock n roll! I just accept it. It’s the job I chose so I had to find a way to continue living while feeling my best.
I maintain my energy for all of this, by working out the majority of the other days I am not on night shifts and keeping my diet relatively clean. Seriously, when I turned 30 I swear I started having all these food intolerances. It got worse when I started flipping schedules constantly. I know what and what not to eat at this point, because it will make me feel tired or crampy or bloated- none of which I want to suffer through, while awake all night taking care of patients. I have also learned to limit social activities if night shifts are coming up in my week.
So there you have it! My not-so-perfect way of tolerating night shifts and still being a fairly normal zombie, er I mean person. We all know this lifestyle is not healthy, but I do the best I can with the career I chose. And crossing my fingers that my night shifts continue to decrease as I move up in the ranks! 🙂
My absolute must-haves for a good post-night shift sleep:
- Black out blinds. Like the best ones you can find. They are worth whatever you have to pay
- Eye mask or t-shirt. Even black out blinds don’t keep out all the light sometimes!
- Ear plugs. Day time noise doesn’t stop for us night shifters. Gotta block it out!
- Water at bedside with Ibuprofen if needed. I sometimes suffer from headaches when I can’t sleep well, and having this by my bedside makes me going back to sleep smoother since I don’t have to get up
- A clear path to the bathroom. My kidneys are never on night shift… and tripping on something when half asleep, well that’s how you end up in the Emergency Department
- Air conditioner or fan. We use a portable AC that can double as a cool fan. The noise helps me block out other noise that would wake me up, and temperature control is SO important
Fave products that bring me back to life:
- Peter Thomas Roth 24K gold eye patches
- Exfolikate cleanser and exfoliant
- Fresh Lotus eye gel
- Fresh Lotus Moisturizer
- Tretinoin gel/cream (I use this every night to prevent aging, get this prescribed by your dermatologist)
- A fresh dose of botox every few months (by none other than The Treatment’s Erin Jensen). I swear, a small dose helps me look just a tiny bit more awake
Photos by Zo’e Fraley, Shirt by Medthusiast, Scrubs by FIGS
3 thoughts on “My zombie life on night shift”
I’m about to start my last week of nights for PGY-2 and this post has so much overlap with internal medicine. Great tips!
I recently started work nights in the ER at a children’s hospital. Your tips are very helpful! I’m going to try and get some sleep now before my shift starts in 3 1/2 hrs. Thank you for the tips!💕