As a nurse, who has worked a fair share of night shifts in his ten-year career, I must say night shift has presented some challenges for me including staying awake while driving after pulling an all-nighter. Currently, my commute home in the morning is about thirty-five minutes, and I find the real challenge comes after about ten or fifteen minutes of driving. Personally, I have had limited success with common techniques such as: playing loud music; rolling down the windows; shaking my head; taking stimulants or coffee; or freezing myself with the AC. All of which are very uncomfortable and make for a miserable, unrelaxing drive home.
It’s so important that we stay awake and alert on the road so as not to harm ourselves or fellow commuters. Now that I’m married and soon to have children, I have to think about them when it comes to my safety. Personally, I have a responsibility to them, and others on the road, to be intentional about being awake enough to drive safely. I know I am not the only one who struggles with this and today I want to offer a few suggestions that have worked well for me.
Get A Good Nights(days) Sleep - Make sure you’re sleeping well during the night or day. Whichever one it is for you. I have written an article titled, “10 Tips For Sleeping Better Tonight,” which will fill you in on what I suggest for a great night sleep in further detail. If you’re working the night shift, you have to be very intentional about your sleep. More so than if you are sleeping during the day. Doing things such as going to sleep as soon as you get home; sleeping in a cool environment; not drinking coffee too late; not exercising before bed; taking some melatonin an hour before bed, and not being disturbed during your sleep. I have found the times I sleep well allow me to be much more resilient to falling asleep at the wheel. Sounds pretty straight forward but you would be surprised at how many nurses do not take their sleep seriously. When it comes to falling asleep at the wheel, it only takes one time to change your life or someone elses.
Take A Nap – That's right, not at home but on the way home in your car. I usually do this if I find myself struggling to stay awake or am nodding off. I bite the bullet and pull over. I have done this hundreds of times and never has anyone bothered me. Make sure you pull into somewhere safe but off to the side where there will not be a lot of people getting in and out of their cars right beside you. I find I fall asleep anywhere from fifteen to thirty minutes, and it feels amazing. I am usually good for the rest of the ride home after one of these. I usually leave the car running with the AC on, and it allows me to feel comfortable and drowns out some of the noise that may be going on around me.
Talk On The Phone – most people know about this one, but there is not always someone available to talk to you early in the morning for twenty minutes. I have also found it is tough to have something to chat about for that length of time as well. I have also caught myself falling asleep during conversations a couple of times. So it doesn’t work all of the time. Also, make sure you are using a hands-free headset and not holding the phone up to your ear which can cause other problems over the long-term with small amounts of radiation.
Eat Something – This is one many nurses do not think about. For one, they think they will get fat by snacking on the way home every morning. You just need to snack on the right thing. My go-to items are carrot and celery sticks, they’re both crunchy enough to keep you alert and are much better alernative to other crunchy foods. Another choice are ice chips. None of these will put weight on you and all make you aware something is in your mouth. If you forget to pack some carrot or celery sticks you can always get a cup of ice chips before you leave to chew on the way home.
It is so important that we as nurses are leading by example with healthy habits. People need to be cared for at all hours of the day, and that requires some nurses to work at night to care for these people. We have to make the best of this duty by taking responsibility to make sure we are driving safely for ourselves, our loved ones and the public we serve. If you have not already done so, I hope you will be more intentional about how you are sleeping and use these techniques to stay safe on the road. If you have found something useful in this article, then please share it with your friends and family. If you have questions or suggestions, please leave them in the comments or you can contact me through the contact form or Facebook. To Your Health!