Unless you’re in that 1:1000 percentile of the population who actually prefers to be awake during the night, you will find that having to stay awake at night is no fun. Many long-term paramedics will talk about happily being a paramedic for the rest of their life, so long as they don’t have to do anymore night shifts! As a paramedic, night shift can be especially difficult because there can be long quiet periods followed by intense cases requiring your entire not so there concentration. Every shift worker is different and what works for some doesn’t for others. So, these are my tips for staying awake on night shift. I hope they can be of some help to you.
1. Get enough sleep beforehand. Okay, this seems pretty obvious, get some sleep during the day and you will stay up at night. Unfortunately it’s not that easy to sleep during the day. Sleep is like a time bank… if you only work the one night shift, you can pull through on the extra time that you have in your sleep piggy bank. Unfortunately, as each night shift combines, the cumulative effect of lack of sleep starts to kick in. This also means that if you’ve been behind on your sleep for a while, you’re going to have to catch up on your days off. Napping works for some people. It doesn’t work for me.
2. Avoid too many stimulants. You will find a lot of paramedics get through the night on caffeine and energy drinks. This may work in the short term, but develops bad habits and a variety of problems long term.
3. Have a set amount of food to eat. You will find that some paramedics get by on eating when they’re tired. This will lead to obesity and other health related problems.
4. I use crushed ice in a cup (found at just about every Emergency Department) as a little pick me up when I’m really about to fall asleep.
5. Outside stimulants such as music and air conditioning may help, but by the time you reach this stage you are becoming dangerous on the road and really do need more sleep?
6. Take turns on driving and keeps an eye on your partner. There is no benefit to one of you sleeping while the other one is driving, this is just dangerous.
It is important to recognise that you are tired and are not performing at your best on night shift and make conscious changes to help mitigate the risks. Drive slower, talk slower, and double check your medication administrations.