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Night Shift Survival Guide 

Night shift work can be rather daunting on a nurse’s health, lifestyle and sleep pattern, even for the most passionate and devoted health care workers. Working the night shift can have its benefits – nighttime pay differentials, shorter work weeks and scheduling for family commitments. 

Making your night shift work more bearable and beneficial for you and your family is a matter of three important factors:

  1. Adjusting your sleep schedule and sticking to a new routine, 
  2. Taking care to apply emotionally and physically strategic tips, and
  3. Accepting the night shift schedule with a positive outlook.

It’s important to look at each of these factors in depth, with a survival guideline you can follow:

How to Prepare for the Night Shift - Prioritize Your Adjusted Sleep Schedule 

  • You must get at least 7-8 hours of sleep, preferably uninterrupted.
  • Don’t drink any caffeinated beverages or take any kind of stimulants a minimum of four hours before sleep. It will have the effect of waking you up or keeping you from falling asleep.
  • Keep your sleeping area as dark as possible – consider purchasing blackout drapes to block out window light.
  • If needed, use earplugs and/or an eye mask.
  • Turn off electronic devices.
  • Put a sign on your door to remind the family of your sleep schedule.
  • If on your days off, you can choose to either use the same sleep times and schedule or you may prefer to change the sleep time. If you choose to change your sleep time, try to keep the times as close to your regular night shift sleep schedule as possible to avoid the stress of adjusting on workdays.
  • A useful sleep strategy for a night-shift nurse is to sleep in late in the morning before the first night shift. Check out Five Distinct Sleep Strategies developed from Vanderbilt University Medical Center research. 
  • Your internal circadian clock has a rhythm that’s important to your body’s healthy functioning, so try to stay on schedule as much as possible, and don’t use the sleep deprivation strategy as a way to handle the days off scheduling. It’ll make you more susceptible to health issues.
  • Melatonin is helpful and safe for night shift workers according to a National Center for Biotechnology Information study. The Mayo Clinic has recommended taking it short-term only, as its effectiveness eventually wears off after taking for a longer period of time. But to get you through a restless night, melatonin can be a good sleep aid.
  • Give your body some time to adjust to the sleep schedule. It may take two or more weeks to adjust.
  • Though your sleep schedule will be different from your family's schedule, don’t forget to make time for your loved ones and friends, focusing on quality time.

How to Stay Awake During Night Shift - Tips for Staying Awake During Your Shift

  • During the inevitable slow periods during your shift, try to stay active and busy to keep your body and mind alert. Organize files if needed, check on patients or put away supplies and materials.
  • Move around – take a few quick stretches.
  • Jump up and down in place for 30 seconds.

How to Survive Night Shift as a Nurse 

  • Take breaks when scheduled.
  • Take a power meditation for five minutes. While in the breakroom or other quiet place, sit with your back straight, your feet on the ground, eyes closed and try to clear thoughts from your head. Put a timer on your phone and repeat a single word over and over again to help you clear the brain chatter. Allow thoughts to come in, and push them away, repeating that single word.
  • Be well-versed on policy and procedures for those unexpected incidents. Make sure you have a cheat-sheet on your phone’s notes page for emergency numbers, procedures and other support information. 
  • Eat healthy meals, preferably before your night shift. And keep light, healthy snacks available – such as fruits, nuts or vegetable during your breaks. After your night shift and before going to bed, eat a light breakfast.
  • Limit your caffeinated beverages to two per day. 
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
  • On your days off, make sure you include “me” time.
  • Prioritize self-care by getting checkups, paying attention to aches and pains, and going pampering yourself as well.

Adopt a Positive and Upbeat Attitude

  • Keep up a good sense of humor. During your breaktime or just about any time appropriate, make time to laugh with your colleagues. Watch a funny video, tell jokes or find humor wherever you can while at work.
  • Start your shift with a positive affirmation, such as, “I love helping people, and I’m good at it.”
  • Remind yourself that work-life balance is within your control, and your ability to maintain a positive attitude will make the night shift work better for you and your family.
  • Make sure to have properly fitting scrubs that make you feel great but are also comfortable! Layer up if necessary for cold night shifts with men’s underscrubs and women’s underscrubs pieces. Also learn more about what to wear under your scrubs in our underscrubs article! 

Working the night shift doesn’t need to be an insurmountable challenge. By creating and adhering to a routine sleep schedule, eating healthy and maintaining healthy habits, and making your emotional well-being a top priority, you’ll be able to settle into a manageable schedule and survive night shift work.