15 Survival Tips for Nurses Working the Night Shift
Health care is an in-demand field, and nursing is particularly robust—particularly those roles that work the night shift. Night shift nurses face unique challenges in their roles that they might not encounter during a daytime shift. In this article, we explain what night shift nurses do and offer 15 tips for nurses working this sometimes… Continue reading 15 Survival Tips for Nurses Working the Night Shift
Health care is an in-demand field, and nursing is particularly robust—particularly those roles that work the night shift. Night shift nurses face unique challenges in their roles that they might not encounter during a daytime shift.
In this article, we explain what night shift nurses do and offer 15 tips for nurses working this sometimes grueling schedule.
What is a night shift nurse?
Night shift nurses are nurses—ranging from certified nursing assistants to advanced practice registered nurses—who work overnight.
Full-time nurses tend to work one of three schedules:
Eight-hour shifts five days a week
10-hour shifts four days a week
12-hour shifts three days a week
All of these shifts are considered full time. Night shifts are often 10 or 12 hours long, although some facilities do offer eight-hour overnight shifts.
Night shift nurses are needed in any care facility that houses patients overnight. The most common workplaces for night shift nurses are hospitals, long-term care facilities and nursing homes.
Night shift nurses have the same responsibilities as day shift nurses, including routine patient care, administering medication and addressing patient concerns. Often, night shift work is slower and more manageable than day shift work as many patients are asleep. However, the overnight hours can be a challenge for those new to working the night shift.
Related: Shift Work: Definition, Jobs, Pros and Cons
15 survival tips for night shift nurses
Here are 15 survival tips for night shift nurses to do their best work and make the most of their days:
1. Set a schedule
Maintain a consistent schedule for work and sleep. It can be a challenge at first to sleep during the day when you are used to being awake, but getting adequate sleep is vital to your job performance and general well-being. Set a clear schedule for when you will sleep after your shift and stick to it. Some nurses prefer to maintain their daytime sleep schedule on off days to keep their bodies and minds ready for work, while others prefer to adjust their schedule to match that of their families. Determine what works best for you and your family.
2. Allow time to adjust
Most likely, you have been awake during the day and sleeping at night for most of your life. It will take time for your body and mind to adjust to working overnight and sleeping during the day. Give yourself time to adjust to the new schedule.
3. Eat healthy food
Healthy eating is important for everyone, but even more so for overnight workers. Eat a healthy diet to maintain your wellbeing. Avoid unhealthy snacks at work when you are tired and eat a healthy snack instead. It will give you more energy and keep you feeling good.
4. Create a sleeping area
When your shift has ended and it’s time to go to bed, make sure your sleep space is conducive to rest. Our bodies and minds use light to determine whether we should be awake or asleep. Invest in blackout curtains, an eye mask and earplugs to convince your mind it’s dark and time for sleep. The light seeping in through thin curtains or the sound of people moving around elsewhere in the house might wake you up, and it is very hard to go back to sleep after waking midday.
5. Monitor your health
Night shift workers are at a higher risk for health problems like insomnia, high blood pressure and weight gain than their daytime counterparts. Maintain a healthy lifestyle and monitor your health regularly.
6. Wear bright colors
Bright colors signal to your brain that it is time to be active and awake. Select brightly colored scrubs with fun patterns to help your brain stay active during your shift. Your coworkers will also benefit from your choice of outfit.
7. Watch your caffeine intake
Adjust your caffeine intake to support your work and sleep schedule. Avoid early morning coffee or soda as your shift comes to an end as this may make falling asleep when you arrive home a challenge. Instead, drink a cup of coffee at the start of your shift and transition to healthy, hydrating beverages as your shift continues.
8. Make friends with your coworkers
Isolation can cause you to feel sleepy and depressed during your shift. Talk with your coworkers and build positive relationships at work. This will help keep you awake and focused during your shift. Additionally, work relationships tend to boost overall morale and keep employees from leaving their jobs.
9. Maintain relationships
Personal relationships must be given special attention when you are working the night shift. Make time to talk with your partner and kids about your work and theirs. Send text messages or leave notes in the house for your family to find while you are at work. Schedule outings after you have slept for the day.
10. Drink water
Hydration is vital, especially for night shift nurses who are often on their feet or moving patients. Drink lots of water on your shift. This has the added benefit of keeping you awake and active by sending you to the restroom regularly.
11. Adjust medications
Carefully review the side effects of any medications you might be taking before your first night shift. If you previously took medication in the evening because it can cause drowsiness, take that medication before you go to sleep in the morning instead.
12. Stay busy
Nursing night shifts are often slower-paced than day shifts. Most patients are asleep and auxiliary staff has gone home for the day. There can be periods of downtime between routine duties. Stay busy by walking the halls, conversing with coworkers or catching up on paperwork.
13. Exercise regularly
Regular exercise helps keep you healthy and fit. Make exercise a consistent part of your routine. Exercise can help alleviate difficulty falling asleep, which is vital for night shift nurses.
14. Take breaks
Use your mandated breaks. Make sure you are eating healthy foods and resting during your breaks. Some facilities allow night shift nurses to nap during breaks and provide safe, designated locations to do so. Make sure this is something your workplace allows, and if it is, take advantage of it. You will be better prepared to work if you are well-rested.
15. Drive home safely
At the end of your shift, you may be exhausted and drowsy. Make sure you take precautions to get home safely. Open your car windows and turn the radio up to keep yourself awake. If you do not feel you can safely drive, call someone to pick you up or enlist a car service to take you home.