Adjusting to future shift work?
January 18, 2018 10:22 AM   Subscribe

I was just hired for a well-paying p/t time in my regional hospital system. That's great, but it's shift work. How do I stay sane, healthy, and motivated to continue work on my side hustle? And oh, advice for working in the hospital system too, please.

Where I live--Kingston, Ontario--can be notoriously hard for employment, especially since the best paying jobs are in the hospital system, Queen's, St Lawrence, or RMC. I count myself really lucky to have impressed HR to have been quickly offered this opportunity. (I've been unemployed for over a year. My chequing acct has a whopping $11 in it.) It's doing scheduling/staffing, if that informs your answer.

The hours will be: noon to midnight, 5 am to 5 pm, 1 pm to 9 pm, 5 am to 1 pm, rotating as needed. It's part-time, but I am so used to keeping a fairly regimented 9-5 schedule even at home working on my podcast and beer columns that I must admit I'm a little terrified. I used to work weird hours in my 20s when I was a barista but it's been a long time. How do I make sure I stay on track with good eating and exercising when my usual times for these things will vary? And sleep? I worked so hard to have a regular sleep schedule!

My partner and I are childfree so there's no little ones to worry about, but it will be strange to be on an opposite schedule.

If you do shift work, how do you cope? And if you work in a hospital, how to adjust to a work setting that isn't like an ordinary office?
posted by Kitteh to Work & Money (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I do shift work that involves outright flipping my sleep schedule (5 PM to 10 AM) regularly.
Things that help:
- Blackout curtains. If you don't have them already, get them now. Even the smallest bit of light makes it difficult to sleep during the daytime. You can find them on Amazon, Home Depot, or Lowes.
- A decent eye mask can also be helpful.
- Make your room on the cooler side, or take a warm shower before going to bed. The drop in temperature will encourage your body to sleep.
- Avoid caffeine (even decaf has caffeine)
- Avoid TV, laptops, phones -- things that emit bright light.
- Prepare food ahead of time so that you don't eat whatever is on hand when you're tired.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 10:56 AM on January 18 [1 favorite]

You're not working overnights, but you are going to definitely be sleeping at different times than your partner and that sleep will tend to be a little more disrupted than your regular sleep. Invest in a white noise machine or app so that when you are sleeping and your partner is awake s/he can move around the house a little more and so you'll sleep better. If your partner is not a careful person (I'm not! My spouse does shift work, including overnights, and I'm a clomper, dish-rattler and door slammer) they may require a little gentle training and possibly some felt pads on slammy doors, or silicon bubbles where the handles of cabinets would otherwise bump.

The 12-hour shifts will make it tricky to do anything besides come home and collapse, but the for the other days it should be workable so *plan* what your meal and exercise schedule might look like. Figure out where the weak points are and set yourself up for success- for example: if I go home I'm toast exercise wise, but if my gym bag is in the car or I can change at work and go for a run, I'm much more likely to get something done.

Think now about where you can have quality time with your partner in home-time overlaps and how you can encourage each others' good habits otherwise. My spouse and I explicitly plan exercise and a meal together specifically and in advance when we have overlapping time at home and have a dumb sticker-on-the-calendar system to keep ourselves accountable for exercise on other days that works well for us. When I can on the weird shifts I make sure there's a healthy meal for him at home, even if it's leftovers, since it sucks to home home at 10pm and have to make dinner.
posted by charmedimsure at 10:58 AM on January 18

Generally, a calendar (online or physical) that you can add your schedule to that your partner can see may be useful for scheduling, since your availability is no longer as predictable.
posted by batter_my_heart at 11:33 AM on January 18

Also, the cheap person's blackout shades (given the $11 in your account) are aluminum foil and/or cardboard. This is not a great long-term solution because your neighbors will hate you, but it is fine in the short term. We have a combination of blackout shades PLUS he blocks the cracks on the bottom with black socks PLUS in a spot or two where there are "laser beams" on the side we have painter's tape. A cool, dark, quiet room is huge if your sleep schedule is non-ideal or doesn't match those of the other people who live with you.
posted by charmedimsure at 4:26 PM on January 18

Divide your day into thirds along the same hours of your shifts. You have three parts to your day: work, side hustle, self care. Pencil in each work shift into your calendar, and fill in the other two parts of the day with a side hustle shift and a self care shift. That way everything has its own 1/3 of the day, just the hours change.
posted by Vaike at 5:37 PM on January 18

For blackout curtains, two layers of fleece on cafe curtain rods is easy and effective. It’s not dead cheap, but should run $15-30 per window (may be cheaper in Canada, this is Alaska prices: I use two one-yard lengths for the curtains, for a total of 4 yards; fleece can be gotten in sale for as little as $4/yd, and the cafe curtain rods run about $8 and the clips are maybe $5? Depending on the size of your windows. If you’ve already got curtain rods it’s easier.)
posted by leahwrenn at 9:51 AM on January 19

Hello, I just woke up a little while ago after working overnight last night in a hospital!

Seconding blackout curtains (I got mine at Walmart in Montreal for about $40--so so so worth it). I don't avoid caffeine, and I have a bit of a problem that requires a coffee by 11am no matter what or headaches, so I drink coffee on a morning schedule even when I'm sleeping during the day. It works for me, but I only figured that out through some painful trial and error. In fact, my overall opinion about sleep schedule and food planning is: you will need to do some trial and error! I know some people crash right away after 12 hours, for example, but I prefer to stay up until my usual sleeptime unless I'm prepping for another early shift the next day. Try it out and see how you feel.

I have a quick sleep-time ritual that helps me fall asleep faster and off-schedule; what do you do right before bed? Think about it and consider implementing something regular if you don't have anything already. (I play one round of a colour-matching phone game, and listen to the same audiobook over and over again on a 15 minute sleep timer, at a slowed down speed and super low volume.)

I use the Work Shift Calendar app to keep track of my shifts, and also to share my schedule with folks I want to see or speak to frequently--it generates a little image file showing my work schedule for the month. I also have a second part time job, office hours and/or work from home, and I book days at the office or work-at-home hours around my hospital shifts. I find that I need to either agree to meet with someone in the office, or at least to have hours scheduled on my calendar, to make sure I get work done outside of shifts. I also have an app that dims my screen/eliminates blue light, which I try to turn on at night and keep on in the morning after a night shift until I fall asleep. (On the other hand, I turn it off as soon as I wake up before a day shift!)

How do you and your partner share cooking? Think about this and start planning shift-friendly scheduling now! When you're working 1pm-9pm, a major issue will be when does dinner get made? If your partner cooks on your evening shift days, fabulous. For 12 hour shifts, if you're going to be cooking, make sure you plan to have groceries already set to go at home. OR, step up your make-ahead cooking. Make sure you pack ample food, especially for long shifts--take a few snacks with you for those 12 hours. Having a piece of fruit or little packet of veggies around just in case it's needed is always a good idea. Also consider in advance your options for post-evening-shift snack if needed. I do 15:30-23:30, and am always hungry when I come home--I try to do toast or something else small, blandish, and carby; that seems to be the least disruptive to sleep.

Based on my limited visits, the staffing office at least at my hospital seems to be fairly officelike, so you may not notice a huge difference in work environment. Things I enjoy about working in the hospital in a generic sense include seeing lots of different familiar faces regularly (where I work most people are pretty friendly, so it's fun saying hi), and giving directions to visitors. Congrats on the job!
posted by snorkmaiden at 1:55 PM on January 19

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