10 Survival Tips for Nurses Working the Night Shift

People get sick at every hour of the day and night and there has to be someone available to take care of them. That is why nursing is a twenty-four-seven job. To ensure that there is always a nurse to take care of patients, nurses take regularly scheduled shifts which can be either day or night.

Typical hospital night shift hours are between 7:00 pm to 7:00 am which is 12 hours long and you can see a nurse working three 12-hour night shifts consecutively. 

“NOC shift” meaning “Nocturnal shift” can be used interchangeably with night shift; however, the meaning of NOC in nursing is “Nursing Outcomes Classification” which is a system that uses the patient, family, and community outcomes to evaluate the effects of nursing intervention, as part of the nursing care process.

You might have heard people say that they work “Graveyard shift” which sounds creepy. Graveyard shift, which can also be used in place of the night shift, is a work shift that runs during the early hours of the morning. They run typically from midnight until 8:00 am.

Due to the time frame, it can be difficult to cope due to the alteration in your sleep schedule. It is, therefore, important for an individual to learn how to survive the graveyard shift before starting.

Survival Tips for Nurses Working the Night Shift

Working Night Shift As A Nurse

The duties and responsibilities of a nurse that works during the night are not different from that of a nurse that works in the day; however, working the night shift has its unique challenges. Although the workload is reduced and there is probably a shift differential, the night shift has its way of altering the normal daily schedule, which includes sleep time. This requires a nurse to make big adjustments to their daily routine.

Working night shifts can be more challenging for newly graduated nurses and nurses that are new to the shift. Most of them don’t know how to cope with night shift. Often said are phrases like:

 “I am so tired”

“Everyone says I’m cranky” 

“I don’t have time for myself’

One of the biggest challenges that a night shift nurse faces is changes in the sleep schedule. As a nurse, there is also a tendency for you to forget to take care of yourself and your business while tending to your patients’ needs all night. This is why these 10 survival tips have been compiled to help you cope better as a night shift nurse.

Tired Nurse

10 Survival Tips for Night Shift Nurses

Here are 10 tips for working night shifts as a nurse.

  1. Set a schedule
  2. Get enough sleep
  3. Take caffeine wisely
  4. Eat healthy meals and snacks
  5. Stay hydrated
  6. Do light exercises
  7. Build positive relationships with your co-workers
  8. Monitor your health
  9. Make time for the things you love
  10. Get home safely

Set a Schedule

As a night-shift nurse, it is important that you maintain a constant schedule for work time and sleep time and stick to it. Plan ahead so that you can stay organized. Having a constant schedule that you are consistent with helps your body and mind adjust quicker. 

The body’s circadian clock believes that the body should be asleep during the night and awake during the day. This is why adjusting to night shift takes some time. There is a good chance that you will be tired for the first couple of days on your new schedule. So, give your body time to adjust. It gets better.

Get Enough Sleep

Working a night shift disrupts the body’s natural sleep and this is why it is important to schedule your sleep and stick to it. Once your shift is over, you should go to bed; however, your body is saying, “No, I am not ready to sleep” because it uses light to determine whether you should sleep or stay awake. 

So if you can’t sleep after a night shift, you can take the following measures to create a sleep environment that is conducive and one that can trick your body into believing it is night time.

  • Use blackout curtains to darken the room.
  • Use an eye mask and earplugs to tell your mind that it is dark and block out noise (because the rest of the world doesn’t know you’re trying to sleep).
  • Avoid consuming caffeine close to bedtime. You really don’t want to catch yourself staring with your eyes wide open at the ceiling when you ought to be snoozing. 
  • Disconnect things that can disrupt your sleep like phones (for real!), doorbell, and other electronics.
  • Don’t depend on alcohol or sleeping pills to make you sleepy.

The above sleeping tips can make sleeping after a night shift easier and faster.

Nurse Sleeping

Take Caffeine Wisely

You must adjust your caffeine intake for it to support your work and sleep schedule. You can take a caffeinated beverage like coffee or tea to help you stay alert during your 12-hour night shift. Caffeine has its way of reducing fatigue; however, you should avoid taking too many caffeinated products.

You can take caffeine at the start of your shift and change to healthy and hydrating beverages during the night. However, as the shift comes to an end, avoid taking coffee or cola, as this can make it difficult for you to fall asleep after your shift.

Eat Healthy Meals and Snacks

As a nurse working on the night shift, it is important to eat healthy diets and snacks to maintain your well-being. It will give you more energy and stamina and also improve your performance level.

Eat balanced diets that provide energy but don’t cause sleepiness and avoid foods that are high in fat. Also, ensure that your meals are frequent and light and eat them with fruits, vegetables, and salads during your shift. When you are tired, you can eat healthy nutritious snacks to help you maintain your energy like 

  • Yogurt, 
  • Pudding,
  • A hearty granola bar, 
  • Dark chocolate, etc.

Stay Hydrated

Nurses working the midnight shift should drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated helps to prevent night shift fatigue and headaches. Water also helps you stay alert and not feel so tired. Apart from water, you can take pure vegetable and fruit juices to maintain hydration. Avoid taking alcohol or sugary soft drinks like soda, as these can make you more dehydrated

Stay Hydrated

Do Light Exercises

During the night shift hours, it is very easy to get fatigued and get drowsy and be caught sleeping on duty! Regular exercises help to increase your level of alertness and endurance and keeps your mood level up. Generally, exercising also helps to keep your weight in check and reduces problems with digestion. It makes you healthy and fit. You can stay active during the shift by

  • Climbing a set of stairs instead of taking the elevator,
  • Taking a walk down the hall or to the cafeteria,
  • Dancing to a song (well, maybe not in public), etc.

Build Positive Relationships with Your Co-Workers

When you are isolated, it is easy for you to feel sleepy and also depressed during your shift. You can prevent this by bonding with your fellow night-shift nurses. Strike up a conversation with your colleagues and build rapport with them. This will help you to stay alert and focused during your shift. 

Having good work relationships also boost your morale to work. You can also communicate with your senior colleagues at work to share their thoughts on how to survive working nights as a nurse. These can also help you learn more from their own experiences. 

Monitor Your Health

When compared with daytime nurses, night time nurses are at a higher risk of experiencing health challenges like 

It is, therefore, important for nurses that work the night shift to maintain a healthy lifestyle and effectively monitor their health.

Make Time for The Things You Love

Working nights as a nurse can make you forget to care for yourself while caring for others. Therefore, you need to set aside time for your hobbies, exercise, etc. Many nurses who work at night may also feel isolated from family and friends due to their conflicting schedules. They find it difficult to maintain vital relationships.

To cope better, let your loved ones know that you will be working nights. Also, schedule a day that will be allocated for the family so that you can catch up. You can also facilitate constant communication with your loved ones through texts, phone calls, emails, etc.

Get Home Safely

After your night shift is over, you may be exhausted and drowsy. So when you are leaving work, ensure you take the necessary precautions when driving. You can do things to keep yourself awake by opening the car windows or singing along with the music on the radio with the volume turned up. 

However, if you still you’re too drowsy to drive, you should pull over immediately (Don’t listen to the voice telling you to close your eyes for just for a second while you’re on the freeway). Some other things you can do if you can’t drive safely are;

  • Call someone to pick you up – a family, a friend, or a taxi,
  • Carpool with another nurse,
  • Go home via public transportation, etc.

Surviving Night Shifts

Working night shift as a nurse has its benefits; however, it takes conscious effort to cope with the unique challenges that come with it. The tips for working nights, when applied, will go a long way in helping you prepare for your night shift and also help you survive the night shifts as a nurse.