How to Survive as a Night Shift Nurse

Night shift nurse

In many clinical settings nursing is a 24-hour-a-day operation, which means someone will be working the night shift. If you’re at all familiar with what it’s like to work nights, you know your whole routine gets flipped upside down.

Working as a night shift nurse will have you on the units between 7 pm and 7 am for any combination of 8 to 12 hours shifts. While a night shift can be desirable for some experienced clinicians, often working nights is assigned to new nurses and iit can be a challenging adjustment at the beginning of a career. 

Making the move to working nights can have some people feeling a little overwhelmed. You have a lot of responsibility as a nurse and doing so when your own routine is out of sorts can be ominous. Patient care is different without families present, the lights can be dim, and most patients are trying to rest. Creating a routine that works for you and your schedule will have you well on your way to crushing it as king or queen of the night.

Changing Your Schedule

The biggest challenge for adjusting to the night shift is adapting to how many aspects of your life are impacted by a new and unusual schedule. Being up all night is one thing, but trying to sleep during the day for some people requires a whole new bag of tricks. Traffic, lawnmowers, dogs barking, phone calls, and sunlight are just a few of the many things that often keep people from sleeping well during the day.

And of course, the rest of your life doesn’t stop just because you’re working nights now. This means you need to plan ahead to accomplish all those responsibilities that accompany adulting when everyone else is awake. Planning ahead as to when you buy your groceries, get your haircut, or get your oil changed requires a little more thought to avoid more interruptions to your daytime sleep schedule.

Fortunately, working nights does not have to totally consume your life. It only takes some minor adjustments to make the schedule transition easier.

  • Room darkening curtains: Get them ASAP to create an environment to sleep better during the day.
  • Consider earplugs or a noise machine to drown out everything beyond your walls.
  • Limit caffeine late in your night shift. It might seem like a good idea to help you push through that 5 am wall, but it can keep you awake longer than you want.
  • Block schedule: Grouping those night shifts close together will help improve your work routine and your return-to-daytime process when off.
  • Stick to a routine: Try to wake up at the same time before your night shift every day just like you would if you were working a day shift. Oversleeping will leave you feeling like you’re stuck in the mud.

Making Your Health a Priority

Humans aren’t wired to be up all night, let alone working through the next sunrise. However, many people in public service like our police force, firemen and women, flight crews, and even your local radio host spend their work schedules up all night.

Many of our biological processes like appetite, digestion, body temperature, and even mood are influenced by circadian rhythms. When that rhythm is out of sync we experience circadian disruption, making us feel tired and groggy with a lot of brain fog to power through.

Not only does this make a job harder to manage, but long-term disruptions to our sleep cycle can also have some detrimental effects on our health if we’re not careful. Working the night shift has been associated with a handful of health concerns that need to be appreciated as an incentive to make your health a priority.

There are well-known aspects of maintaining a healthy lifestyle that are even more important when working as a night shift nurse. 

Stay Safe

A serious point to consider is driving home after a night shift when you may be extremely tired. When you’re been up for a long period of time, you can have symptoms similar to intoxication. Consider getting someone to pick you up, use a rideshare app, or take a nap before getting behind the wheel. 

Exhaustion can also affect the quality of care nurses are able to provide. If you’ve had to be up all day handling chores, family obligations, and transportation, make sure you get in all the rest you can on your breaks to ensure your performance on the job remains high. 

Eating Healthy

Eating a healthy diet will help mitigate the disruptions to aspects of our health like metabolism. High-protein meals and snacks instead of simple sugars are going to keep you going longer. It’s also a great idea to plan and prepare your meals and snacks ahead of time.

Stay Hydrated

Staying hydrated will optimally support bodily functions like regulating body temperature, preventing infection, lubricating joints, and delivering nutrients to your cells that subsequently support organ function. Hydration is also associated with better sleep quality, cognition, and mood.

Take Naps

Take naps when you can. For many employers, what you do on your break is your own business, and if that’s the case consider taking a short rest. Naps can bring clarity to your mind and energize you for the rest of your shift. 20 minutes is recommended to provide good rest, but prevent you from falling into a deep sleep that might leave you feeling groggy.

Make a Plan With Your Family

Transitioning to a new routine as a night shift nurse isn’t just going to impact you. Your friends and your family who are used to having you around and accessible during the day will need to adjust as well. 

Making a plan and informing your loved ones of when you’re going to be sleeping and when you would prefer to not be disturbed is critical to avoiding interruptions. Let them know you’ll check in when you wake up, but you’ll otherwise be MIA unless there’s an emergency.

In support of your schedule, it’s helpful to identify a backup to responsibilities that would normally be yours. If you have kids in school, make sure there is another contact for issues so you can rest more easily. If it’s the weekend and the kids are going to be home while sleeping, perhaps a family member can take them out for the day.

You Can Survive as a Night Shift Nurse

Surviving as a night shift nurse is totally possible, and while doing so can come with its fair share of stressors it’s just one aspect of being a professional nurse. When it comes to other professional responsibilities like continuing education, Premiere makes it easy with online content and automatic logging with appropriate agencies that can fit any schedule. We offer a range of award-winning courses for nurses on a variety of topics that can give you ANCC contact hours and make it easy to keep yourself current and up to date even if you’re working the night shift.   

With cutting-edge, self-paced continuing education created by industry-leading professionals at your fingertips, Premiere has got you covered for all your continuing education needs.

Shopping Cart
Scroll to Top