EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appears in Salute to Nurses 2017. Find the full magazine at http://gatehouse.morecontentnow.com/news/20170320/salute-to-nurses-2017-its-your-time.

While the duties and responsibilities may be the same, nurses on the night shift are forced to sleep against the clock.
“Getting sufficient sleep is the key to maintaining alertness during night shift and during the drive home,” said Ann E. Rogers, Edith F. Honeycutt Chair in Nursing, professor and director of graduate studies at Emory University’s Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing. “Night-shift workers have higher accident rates on the drive home, and nurses have killed themselves or others because they have dozed off on the drive home.”
Here are a few tips from Rogers to meet the unique challenges of working overnight:
• Being successful starts with scheduling. Make sure that you’ve scheduled shifts that allow you to get enough sleep after work.
• Be careful with your caffeine intake. Avoid drinking caffeinated beverages so that you can benefit from the arousal effects of caffeine when working nights. “Caffeine consumed in the first part of the night shift — midnight to 3 a.m. or 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. — will help alertness during the last half of the night and during the drive home,” Rogers said.
• To get good sleep at home, “wear dark sunglasses on the drive home, use dark shades in the room where you sleep and turn off your electronics, including the phone,” Rogers said. There’s no alternative to getting enough sleep, she said.
• In addition to creating a comfortable sleep environment, “keeping a normal weight will help a night-shift worker since those who are overweight or obese have more disrupted sleep whether they’re working nights or not, and avoiding obesity will also reduce someone’s risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea,” she said.
• Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is difficult for many people, but night-shift workers have more to contend with. “Many shift workers shift back to days on their days off, thus allowing them to participate in family and community activities,” Rogers said. “Night-shift workers should not be expected to keep an eye on their children during the day when they should be sleeping.” It’s a common strategy for parents to work opposite shifts to reduce child-care costs, she said.
• If you have to rotate a shift, “it’s best to rotate forward days to evenings (if the hospital has evening shifts — most don’t), then evenings to nights,” Rogers said. “It’s easier for most people to stay up longer and very difficult to force yourself to go to sleep earlier if you rotate backwards nights to evenings to days.”
• While some hospitals pay an hourly shift differential, not all places pay extra on nights, Rogers said. “Although people often assume that night shift is quieter and less busy, it may not be, especially for nurses working in the intensive care unit or other high-acuity areas,” she said.
• Some night owls like working at night, but others can have an extremely difficult time. “They have what’s called shift work sleep disorder,” Rogers said. “When they are working days, they are awake and alert during the days and sleep well at night. However, when working nights, they have an extremely difficult time sleeping during the day and staying alert at night. Sleep specialists recommend that they do not work night shifts but, if that is impossible, may prescribe medication to help them remain awake and alert on the job.”