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Tips for Surviving the Night Shift in Nursing

6 min readMay, 01 2023

It's typical for nurses to work an occasional or regularly scheduled night shift. These eight-to-twelve-hour blocks usually run between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. A common misconception is that night shift nurses aren't as busy as day shift nurses. Although the facility may be quieter during overnight shifts, a nurse's night shift routine requires the same round-the-clock care as their daytime counterparts, with potentially more patients to attend to. The upside is that since there's less chaos and no visitors milling about, nurses on the night shift may have more one-on-one time with their patients. Explore ways to prepare for — and even enjoy — working as a night shift nurse 

How to Prepare for a Night Shift Nursing Role

Making the transition to night shift nursing can seem daunting. But if you plan ahead and establish a routine, you'll find working the night shift as a nurse can be a productive and rewarding experience. There are a couple of things you need to address right from the start.

Understand the Health Risks and Strategize Accordingly

Knowing about the possible side effects associated with the night shift will empower you to be proactive in anticipating and handling them. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) offers a training program that identifies potential risks for nurses on a night shift or longer shifts, such as disturbances to the sleep-wake cycle and conflicting work-home demands. The two-part course also includes tangible strategies for individuals and workplaces to reduce these risks.

Get Family and Friends on Board

When working as a night shift nurse, your day-to-day routine will change. You'll need to sleep while others in your sphere are up and about. You may also have to adjust or miss mealtimes with family or dinner plans with friends. Getting their support upfront will make the transition to night shift nursing much smoother.

Adjust Your Sleep Pattern

Teaching your mind and body to adjust to night shift nursing can be challenging at first. Try to stay up as late as possible on evenings before overnight shifts. Sleep in if you can and take a thirty-minute power nap before leaving for your shift. You can also request clustering night shifts to make the adjustment easier. These clusters could involve working three nights in a row or a one-night-on, two-days-off, two-nights-on schedule.

If you're working the night shift exclusively, try to keep your off-schedule similar to your work schedule. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest consistency is the best sleep pattern for night shift nurses. On your days off, go to bed at 3 or 4 a.m. and wake at noon or 1 p.m. Consistent sleep cycling trains your body to regulate itself better.

How to Stay Alert on the Job

You'll find your surroundings quieter and more peaceful when working the night shift as a nurse. But don't let that affect your ability to keep on your toes throughout your shift. Try these night shift nursing tips to stay alert and ready for your patients, continuing to prioritize nursing excellence.

Fuel Your Body and Mind

Avoid exhaustion and any potential mistakes that could result by keeping yourself engaged throughout the evening.

  • Check in with your colleagues. Chatting is a cognitive process that will keep you all Ask your peers to share advice on how they get through the night shift.
  • Use lulls during the night to re-energize through activities such as stretching or doing a crossword puzzle.
  • Drink coffee, tea, or other caffeinated beverages sparingly. This is especially critical as your shift progresses. Getting caffeinated too close to your bedtime can disrupt your established sleep pattern. Instead, drink plenty of water since studies indicate sleep deprivation can cause dehydration.

If Allowed Naps, Take Them

In some facilities, nurses are allowed to sleep on night shifts for a quick refresher. A few power naps throughout your shift can keep your energy levels high. Remember to keep these naps short — sleeping for more than thirty minutes could cause grogginess.

Give Yourself a Boost With Healthy Foods

Choose high-quality foods that will sustain you without causing an energy crash. Healthy snacks like hard-boiled eggs and nuts are smart choices but try not to sabotage your overall sleep schedule. The CDC recommends adhering to your standard day-and-night consumption patterns and avoiding eating between midnight and 6 a.m.

Wrap up your shift with a small breakfast, so being hungry won't keep you from falling asleep when you get home.

Consider Alternatives to Driving

When you're drowsy after working a night shift, the last thing you want to do is drive. Consider calling a cab, taking public transportation, or having a loved one pick you up. If you drive, stay stimulated by turning up the radio and blasting the A/C or opening your window for fresh air. 

How to Relax and Recuperate After a Night Shift

An Asian American nurse is sitting in a yoga position on a mat in a clam and serene looking room. She has her eyes closed in quiet mediation.

Night shifts are often part of a nurse's schedule, but you want to make sure their effects don't interfere with your home life and personal relationships. Try relaxation techniques and establish healthy sleep habits to make your adjustment smoother. 

Prime Yourself for Downtime

As others around you begin their day, it can be tempting to join in. Avoid the temptation to engage and wait to respond to texts or emails until you've rested. Give your body time to unwind by meditating in bed, reading a book, and taking deep breaths.

Make Sleep a Priority  

Follow these rules of thumb to ensure you get the proper amount of sleep:

  • Head to bed right away. Trick your circadian rhythms by wearing sunglasses if it's light out when you leave work. Once at home, incorporate sleep methods such as a sleeping mask or blackout curtains, a cool and quiet room, and all electronics silenced or turned off.
  • Let your loved ones know not to disturb your sleep. Emphasize that you'll need to get as much rest as possible after your shift to be more alert for quality time with them.

The Benefits of Being a Night Shift Nurse

Remember, there are plenty of upsides to working the night shift as a nurse. Keeping a positive outlook can make the experience more enjoyable for you and your patients. Consider the following: 

  • Evenings are typically quieter. The slower nature of the graveyard shift means you'll have more uninterrupted time to focus on your work and your patients.
  • More direct patient care. Generally speaking, patients have fewer visitors overnight. Working with them during this time allows for more hands-on care without the need to support their loved ones.
  • Opportunities to foster stronger bonds with peers. Whatever shift you work, there's always a bond among your colleagues. But teams are typically smaller on the night shift, which encourages a stronger sense of camaraderie.
  • Possibility of higher pay. While this may depend on your employer, nurses on night shift hours can sometimes earn a higher wage.
  • Find more nursing wellness tips and resources at ANA's Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation.


Images sourced from Getty Images

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