The good news is there are ways to combat the evils of night shifts. I will make a few suggestions here, but I’d also like to hear from you about the strategies that you have found helpful. Send your tips to email@example.com.
This one seems obvious, but sleep needs to be a priority. The day after an overnight is not the best time to have someone cleaning and running the vacuum in every room of your house. Don’t schedule a meeting in the middle of your daytime sleep and assume you’ll be OK. Be selfish with your sleep! Let family and friends know that you are out of commission until a certain time and request that they avoid texting or calling during your sleep times. Put a sign on the door that reads, “Day sleeper, do not disturb, and do not open the door.”
Our bodies want to sleep when it is dark. Create a dark, quiet place for daytime sleeping. Think about installing blackout shades on your windows to create artificial nighttime. Unplug the phone and use earplugs. One overnight attending in the Bronx wears blackout goggles on his way home from work to avoid seeing the bright sun and throwing off his sleep cycle. (Just to paint a picture, this man is 6’5” and riding the subway home during morning rush hour in a hooded sweatshirt and black metal goggles.) You can wear sunglasses home instead of blackout goggles. Your fashion sense will guide your decision.
A schedule that bounces from day to night, then night to day without a second to breathe is going to be hard for anyone. Some emergency physicians bundle their night shifts together, while others find that night shifts randomly worked throughout the month is better. You should experiment with both strategies and find which best fits your biorhythm and lifestyle.
4. REWARD FOR WORKING NIGHT SHIFTS
It is possible that some people just can’t do night shifts. One emergency medicine program just implemented a policy where employees do not have to do nights in the third trimester of their pregnancy. Many EDs do not require physicians over a certain age to do night shifts. One hospital in the Northeast has shortened the night shift from midnight to 6 am so that the overall impact on sleep is less.
Certain medical and psychiatric conditions, for example, seizure disorders, depression, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, are also affected by overnight shifts. Does your practice have specific guidelines for who is not required to work night shifts? This is a discussion that should take place. Many departments offer compensation for night shifts to ease the pain.
The solution to driving after a night shift was developed by a residency director in Washington, D.C. She recommends that if you come to a stoplight, put your car into park. If you then doze off, drivers behind you will beep their horns and alert you that it is time to move. You cannot inadvertently run into the car in front of you with this fail-safe strategy.