For Night Techs, Working the Overnight Shift Requires A Little Something Special, but that Something is Different for Everyone
If you’ve never worked a third shift job, then this article may feel a little off to you. But for those of you who have worked the third shift, the night shift, the graveyard session, well, this one’s for you. You know how night shift can mess up your entire sleep schedule. You’re completely off kilter compared to the rest of the world. You likely invested in black out curtains one day and have never gone back. And, you are almost certainly a heavy caffeine user, though we know this isn’t true for everyone! Now we might have nailed you on the head or maybe we’re way off, but no matter who you are, if you’re a night technician, we owe you an immense amount of thanks. Your pivotal role in the sleep care continuum is crucial to positive patient outcomes.
While patient care and test maintenance obviously occupy the majority of night techs’ on shift time, there are occasional studies that lend to a simpler, less stressful evening. This was especially true in years past, though much of that is changing as the average complexity in sleep patients increases with each passing year. Still, for techs typically on a 3:1 schedule, with two patients cancelling at the last minute and the third being a simple case of mild OSA, some evenings can still be longer than others.
In those scenarios, night techs must find ways to get through the night, and to that end, we went out and gathered insights from night techs via social media, specifically on how they pass the hours during the less-than-busy nights. There were three big themes: prioritize your own sleep, move around mentally or physically, and pack the right snack.
Pack the Right Snack
The first group of comments all center around one common thread: tasty treats. In an 8-hour shift, the “lunch” break is always great, but eating a meal at 1, 2, 3, or 4 in the morning can be a little different on your body. Certain foods stimulate the brain, help keep you awake, and others, well, others can spell disaster. Here’s a few insights from some of the techs on foods for passing the night.
- “Fruit juice. **Yes, you can quote that**” – Dru W, referencing Joel’s preferred choice, as well: 5 Hour Energy.
- “5 hour energy @ 0230 a.m.” – Joel S.
- “Stay away from sugar, and carbs for that matter. Remember that the half-life of caffeine is 5-6 hours.” – Andy M.
- “Honestly I’m a caffeine addict but I’ve found cold water definitely helps and eating something when you start to get sleepy!” – Sarah S.
- “2-3 am is my time that I get sleepy. I will normally drink a sip of coffee. I also try to pack some protein as a snack.” – Megan H.
- “Eat a meal around 3am! Or Candy. Just any protein + carb! My candy of choice is Hershey’s bars.” – Emma W
- “Fruit is your friend. I never drink coffee at night. If I’m super tired, I get up, stretch, go to the bathroom, and grab a banana or apple. Those are my 2 favorites. I’ve been doing it for 13 years now.” – Jillian PT, who shared this Medical News Today article highlighting 28 energy boosting foods.
Great snacks, drinks and advice on how to fuel your body. But sometimes, fuel isn’t enough. Action is required!
Get Up and Move!
Snacks are great, but sometimes, the best thing you can do to stay alert is stay active. That might mean a couple push-ups or jumping jacks, or it might just mean a little mental agility with Sudoku or Crossword puzzles. Here’s a few other submissions from our night tech audience:
- “I bring coloring stuff or word searches for when I feel like I’m gonna doze off. Keeps my brain going!” – Lyndsea T.
- “I would brush my teeth every time I felt tired. It rejuvenated me. Oh, and of course… Shock collar. Hard to sleep at work if you’re getting electrocuted at irregular intervals! It’s low budget but effective. ” – Brandy M.P.
- “Stand up. Move around. Listen to some butt-shaking tunes. It’s easier for me to get through a night when my patients are needy and the titrations are engaging. A PSG will wear me down.” – Danita M.
- “Get up and walk at least every 30 minutes.” – Cynthia P.
Clearly, moving your body has positive effects on keeping you alert and awake. Among the techniques employed during all-nighters, doing 15-20 push-ups or burpees can really help get some blood flowing throughout your body.
Prioritize Your Sleep First
While snacks and activities are great options, the solution that will really support a better night shift lifestyle is taking time to prioritize your own sleep schedule, starting with protecting your eyes on your bright drive home in the morning. Many of the folks that submitted foods above also commented on getting good sleep, so make sure you read through these excellent suggestions if you’re struggling to keep your eyes open during the wee-hours of the night.
- “In order to handle nights you have to have a great day’s sleep. Period. If you cannot have peaceful, uninterrupted sleep during the day, you must find a way to accomplish this.” His tips: “Turn off your phone for one. Blackout drapes for the windows. Make sure friends and family are aware of your night shifts and you being unavailable during the days or nights when you’re working… That’s a good start.” – Bob Z.
- “Wear dark sunglasses when you leave work in the morning. Then try to stay awake until noon and go to sleep at 1 pm, then sleep until about an hour before work.” – Deloris A.
- “Discipline yourself to get your SLEEP!!” – Linda L.
- “I usually sleep all night before I go to work, then I stay up until 11-12pm and sleep until I have to get ready and I usually do pretty good! Make sure your room is super dark and wear amber sunglasses on your drive home!” – Sarah S.
- “Sleep during the day and you will be fine at night.” – Connie R.T.
- “I usually go home & go straight to bed. It’s easier to get to sleep when it’s dark outside. I also have mini blinds, a blackout roller shade & blackout curtains hung up by the ceiling. I have caffeine until about 1:00 so it doesn’t affect my daytime sleep.” – Nancy H.B.
- “I wear sunglasses on my way home from work. If you aren’t sleeping well during the day…you have to fix that. Black out curtains, melatonin, no caffeine after 6AM, ear plugs and an eye mask...get your sleep so you can help others with their sleep.” – Megan H.
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves, Megan!
Thank you Sleep Technologists!
To close this out, we have one piece of advice that really encapsulates the rest of the commentary quite succinctly. It’s from Susan, and to us, it’s a perfect summation:
Again, thank you to all the sleep technologists out there for the important role you play in the sleep care continuum. We couldn’t do it without you. Happy Sleep Technologist Appreciation Week, y’all! #STAW2021
To dive into other EnsoData content, check out a few of these other sleep resources: