A Guide to Post Night Shift Driving

Written By: Tenley Force RN, BSN

After keeping our patients safe, we need to make sure that WE are safe!

Getting through a 12 hour night shift is challenging.  We have to fight against our own fatigue as we countdown to 07:30. Getting home after that 12 hour shift can be even more challenging still. There is no worse feeling than trying to keep our heavy eyelids open as we drive home. We’ve all been there—anxiously clutching our steering wheels while praying at each stop light that we don’t fall asleep.

Just like we have to implement safety strategies to keep our patients safe, we need to implement safety strategies to keep ourselves safe too. This becomes especially important when we leave work and get behind the wheel. To keep ourselves (and others) safe as we drive, here are 6 strategies that we can actively engage in to make sure we get home in one piece.

Strategy #1: Eat a crunchy snack.

Whether it’s trail mix you keep stashed in your car, emergency celery that you have stored in your lunch box, or ice cubes that you got from the patient ice machine and took in a to-go cup, snacking on something crunchy will heighten the chewing sensation and provide our brain with stimulation. It is harder to fall asleep mid-chew while eating something crunchy, than it is simply chewing gum.

Strategy #2: Phone a friend.

Calling a friend, family member, or partner, can also help keep our minds engaged as we drive. The ‘end of our day’ is the beginning of the day for everyone who does not work nightshift. This can be a good opportunity to catch up before they go to work and we go to sleep. Not only can they help keep us awake as we converse, but as a bonus, we can wisely utilize our time by talking about our night, so that once we get home, we can focus on showering and going straight to sleep.

Strategy #3: Physically engage at stop lights.

​You can grab you air guitar, practice the drums, or work on memorizing the arm movements for a Tiktok dance. Physically moving around as much as possible will help us stay awake as we stop at dreaded traffic lights. The more we move, the more we distract ourselves from how tired we are. And, if we are truly trying to learn the drums or moves to a tiktok dance, then the car (while stopped at lights) can be a great place to practice by marking out the movements.

Strategy #4: Practice some face yoga.

Does facial yoga actually help slow the aging process? Who knows. But if the goal is to stay awake at the wheel, engaging in muscular facial movement can enable us to participate in at least some sort of physical movement while we are stuck in a seated position and have both hands on the wheel. If facial yoga truly does work, then not only do we get home safely, but we also have the added benefit of improving our facial health as well.
Strategy #5: Hold a concert featuring you.
While listening to loud music might not always cut it when we are significantly sleepy, singing along to music with animation and grandiosity can help. The more we lean into the song, the more our minds engage. Just as it is harder to fall asleep while actively chewing, it is also harder to fall asleep if we are wholeheartedly singing. An added perk that comes with singing in the car, as opposed to singing in the shower, is that we can truly sing as loudly and freely as we want.

Strategy #6: Make a list using voice to text.
Future you will thank you for this one. If we don’t feel like talking to anyone on the phone, we can talk to ourselves by making lists and setting reminders as we drive. You can use Siri, voice memos, or whatever app you prefer. Start your to-do lists and grocery lists so you don’t have to think about them when you get home. Having to try and remember what we want to include on our lists allows for us to engage in active thinking as we battle the post-night shift fog.

Safe driving is a serious issue for both our own safety and the safety of other drivers and pedestrians. The more strategies that we are able to implement in our post-night shift driving habits, the safer everyone will be. If none of these strategies are working, however, then the best thing to do if we are truly not going to be able to make it home is to pull over. While not ideal, taking a nap in our car is a much better solution than getting into an accident. Another option is taking an Uber/Lyft from your place of work. Nurses are masters of promoting safety while at work, so let’s apply the same commitment to safety everywhere we go.

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