Tips for Nurses Working the Night Shift

Working the night shift can be a daunting task. Your friends and family are sleeping, the world is dark, and yet here you are at work. It’s not easy, but it’s a doable (and often rewarding!) task.

We’ve put together a few tips for nurses to help you get through working the night shift.


A Coffee Break, Not Multiple Breaks

A cup of coffee is helpful, but multiple cups are not. Caffeine will wake you up to get you through the shift, but too much caffeine can keep you awake when you’re at home trying to sleep. Missing sleep=sleepy during your next night shift. And there’s the cycle starting anew. It takes a few hours for caffeine to leave your system; in eight hours, 75% of caffeine is gone. Drink your coffee at the beginning of the shift, not towards the end.

Hit the Hay

Sleep, sleep, sleep. The most vital thing is maintaining a sleep schedule that provides adequate, healthy sleep. WebMD notes that nightshift nurses can suffer from sleep disorders. Create and stick to a regular sleep-wake schedule and let your friends and family know the hours you will be sleeping. Remind them that calling you at 1 p.m. on their lunch breaks would be like you calling them at 1 a.m. on yours. Find a balance, and socialize after you have finished sleeping.

Skip the Vending Machine

As a nurse, you already know the risks of diabetes. Research shows a correlation between night shift workers and diabetes, noting that they are twice as likely to have the disease. Part of this is diet. When the only thing open on your lunchbreak is the 24-hour fast food place around the corner, it’s easy to fall into the habit of eating what’s convenient. Packing healthy lunches, eating healthy dinners, and remembering to not skip breakfast go a long way.

Get by With a Little Help From a Friend

Take the time to get to know your nursing team mates. Night shifts can lend to quiet, down times that daytime shifts do not have. There’s time to do paperwork, but also time to chat. The beauty of your arrangement is that your co-nurses are all in the same nighttime shift boat. If you feel sleepy or stressed, chances are they have been through it already, and can offer a hand. Those friendships can help from feelings of isolation; you’re not the only one who has a different routine from your friends and family.

Don’t Be a Vampire

While it’s difficult to juggle a sleep schedule that still allows for an upcoming night shift, use your “days” off to actually see the sun. Waking up earlier in the afternoon on your day off allows for more daylight hours. Your daytime-working friends will appreciate the chance to see you in natural lighting. But remember to balance: you still have to sleep.

Be Prepared

We already mentioned packing a healthy lunch, but there also has to be time to go to the grocery store, buy your ingredients, and make that lunch. Those who work the night shift have to be organized, almost more organized than their daylight counterparts. This nurse notes that she gets her shopping and laundry done on her days off. Packing lunches, preparing meals, and running errands can also be scheduled at the end of a shift while the rest of the world starts their day. As long as it doesn’t interfere with your sleep schedule, there are still hours in the day to get things done.

Dance Party

If you have the chance to move, stretch your legs, or kick up your heels, go for it! Stretching between rooms, a few fast-walking paces around the hall, or even an impromptu dance off with a co-worker behind the desk is enough to get your blood flowing, shake off any sleep, and help add to your exercise routine. Speaking of, keep to your exercise routine, even if it’s at an odd hour. Pre-shift or post-shift, take time to go a gym, a yoga class, or on a jog.


Written By Natalie Howard

Written by

Natalie Howard is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, North Carolina. She covered career advice for the ZipRecruiter blog.

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