11 Survival Tips for Nurses Working the Night Shift

Working the night shift as a nurse comes with its unique challenges. Here are 11 effective and actionable tips for nurses like you to better cope with shift work!

by Tan Jia Hui

While the world sleeps, dedicated nurses continue to work through the night to take care of those in need. 

Indeed, working the night shift is a challenging yet essential part of healthcare. The roles and responsibilities of a nurse on the night shift may be similar to a nurse working during the day, but disruptions to your biological clock can present unique challenges and health risks.

For nurses working the night shift, it is essential to prioritise your well-being and adjust to a sleep schedule that’s in contrast with the majority of the world, including your family and friends. 

Read on to pick up effective yet actionable tips to better cope with shift work.

What is a night shift nurse?

A night shift nurse is a licensed nurse who works overnight, typically between 7pm to 7am, to ensure patients receive continuous care 24/7. 

What is the schedule like for night shift nurses?

Work schedules for night shift nurses may look vastly different in different settings.

Nurses working night shifts at community hospitals, nursing homes, and long-term care facilities may expect a slower pace than those working day shifts as patients are typically asleep. Upon clocking in, they will need to ensure medications are administered at the right times, check vital signs, and provide bedside care such as diaper changes during rounds. Night shift nurses will also need to make sure all the necessary reports, documentation and paperwork are in place before clocking out.

For those in emergency care settings, work schedules may be similar to day shift nurses. It is important for emergency care nurses to stay alert throughout the night and provide immediate support to those in a medical emergency to minimise long-term repercussions and sustain life.

What are the duties required for night shift nurses?

The responsibilities of night shift nurses typically include (but are not limited to):

  • Administering medication
  • Auditing case notes and ensuring that all doctor orders are carried out
  • Checking vital signs periodically
  • Keeping a lookout to prevent falls in patients
  • Stocking up the medication and blood-taking trolley
  • Assisting patients with showering
  • Providing bedside care, such as changing diapers and attending to other patient needs
  • Settling the necessary paperwork, including reports, patient discharge documents, and referrals

What kind of facilities require night shift nurses?

Most healthcare facilities that operate 24 hours a day require night-shift nurses. This includes acute and community hospitals, mental health institutes, nursing homes, and long-term care facilities.

Tips for nurses working the night shift

Nurses working the night shift face a unique set of challenges. Besides disruptions to sleep and eating patterns that can impact physical health, night shift nurses often grapple with isolation as they have to find ways to maintain a consistent sleep schedule yet participate in social activities with their friends and family during the day.

1. Stick to a regular sleep schedule

An eye mask, which can help night shift nurses to sleep better in the day.

Source: Pexels

As a nurse working the night shift, establishing a consistent sleep routine to help your body adjust to the new sleep schedule is imperative. Try to stick to the same sleep schedule even on your days off. It can be tempting to reschedule your sleep for personal errands or social plans, but resist the urge to do so. Schedule these activities for your waking hours or your rest day instead. Good sleep is essential for your well-being, and making sleep a priority is important for your mental and physical health. 

To minimise sleep debt, you can also plan for 30-minute naps during breaks in your night shift. Try not to let your naps exceed 30 minutes as it can be difficult to stay alert after waking up from them.

2. Create a conducive sleep environment

Sleeping during the day can be difficult due to the noise, light, and human activity. Steps you can take to create a conducive environment include:

  • Donning sunglasses on your way home from work to reduce the effects of bright sunlight on your circadian rhythm
  • Using blackout curtains to block out sunlight and keep the room dark
  • Disconnecting devices that can interrupt sleep, such as phones and doorbells
  • Wearing eye masks and ear plugs to reduce noise and light
  • Adjusting your fan or aircon settings to maintain a cool and comfortable temperature that offsets the daytime heat
  • If you live with family members or housemates, inform them of your sleeping hours so they can refrain from entering your room and minimise noise disruptions
  • Learning relaxation techniques that can help you fall asleep, such as meditation and deep breathing

3. Eat nutritious meals

An example of healthy, nutritious meals for night shift nurses.

Source: Pexels

Unsurprisingly, what you eat can affect your energy levels. Plan your meals ahead of time. Choose meals that are high in protein, fibre, and healthy fats as they can sustain you through the night and prevent spikes and crashes in your energy level. 

Stock up on healthy snacks like nuts, fruits, yoghurt, and whole-grain crackers to munch on when you feel hungry during the night. Avoid greasy meals or sugary snacks as they can make you feel sluggish and cause digestive discomfort.

4. Break up a meal into multiple frequent light meals

If you are prone to energy crashes, try to adopt a ‘grazing’ approach to eating. This involves consuming smaller meals and snacks frequently, rather than having a large meal in one sitting. Doing so can ensure a steady supply of energy throughout the night, reduce hunger pangs, prevent overeating, and aid in digestion.

5. Stay active

Exercising regularly can help to combat some physical health challenges associated with working overnight. A well-balanced workout regime that includes strength, cardio, and flexibility training can improve heart health, maintain a healthy weight, boost your mood and brain function, and reduce your risk of developing chronic conditions. 

You can also incorporate quick and simple exercises during breaks in your shift or when you feel sleepy for an energy boost. It can be as simple as taking a walk to the cafe or climbing some stairs.

6. Watch your caffeine intake

Caffeine takes 25-30 minutes to kick in. Once it takes effect, caffeine gives us a temporary boost in memory, mood, and performance, helping us to stay alert which is crucial during a night shift. 

However, too much caffeine can make us feel jittery and restless. Furthermore, prolonged reliance on caffeine may have health implications, including insomnia and stomach problems. Try to stave off caffeine if possible and only consume it when necessary.

Furthermore, avoid consuming caffeine several hours before your bedtime as it can affect sleep quality. If you wish to have a cup of coffee or tea, it is best to do so towards the start of your shift, as that would allow the effects of caffeine to have faded away by the time you are due to end your shift. 

7. Hydrate sufficiently

We know that dehydration can lead to fatigue and difficulties with concentration. But as you get caught up in your busy work routine, it is common to forget to drink enough water. Aim to drink at least eight glasses of water throughout your shift.

Try keeping a bottle of water at your workstation so it is easily accessible, and set regular hydration reminders on your phone or smartwatch.

8. Socialise and connect

Humans are inherently social beings, and connecting with family and friends is vital for our emotional well-being. For one, it is important for night shift nurses, like you, to communicate with loved ones so they can empathise with you and avoid disrupting your sleep. For those with children, explain to them why mummy or daddy have to sleep in the day and make the necessary childcare arrangements.

Besides regular communication through texts and calls, you can make things more interesting by writing notes to loved ones and pasting them on the fridge or bulletin board if face-to-face interactions are limited.

Schedule regular bonding time with family so everyone can spend time together. With friends, it can take some effort to align your conflicting schedules, but try making plans in advance to ensure that everyone can keep their schedules clear. If meeting up in person is difficult, even scheduling a call can help to mitigate feelings of isolation.

9. Bond with your colleagues

Source: Pexels

Having a strong working relationship with fellow nurses on both the day and night shifts can also facilitate communication and improve the quality of care that patients receive, ensuring the shift runs smoothly.

With fewer doctors on duty, night shift nurses often have to be resourceful and help each other out, creating a supportive team culture and a distinct sense of camaraderie. If you face any challenges that are unique to night shift nurses, you can also turn to your co-workers who may share tips and advice on how they cope.

10. Find ways to stay busy

In some settings, night shifts tend to be quieter than day shifts. This may not necessarily be a bad thing, but idle time can make the shift feel longer. Find meaningful ways to stay busy. With most patients asleep, you have more one-on-one time with those who are awake, allowing you to deliver quality care on a more intimate level. You can also help with any paperwork or preparation to relieve the workload of day shift nurses since it can get busy during the day.

11. Get home safely

Driving while sleep-deprived poses a danger to yourself and other road users. If you are still adapting to the new sleep schedule or simply feel fatigued after the night shift, avoid driving home and take public transport instead. If you still choose to drive home, you may want to carpool with others and hold a conversation so you do not fall asleep. Should you feel dangerously sleepy during the drive, pull over immediately to work out an alternative transport option.

It takes incredible dedication and commitment to be a night shift nurse. As you care for others, remember to also prioritise self-care. Adopting these survival tips not only safeguards your own well-being but also empowers you to provide exceptional care.

When the going gets tough, remember that you are not alone. Reach out to your family, friends, and colleagues for support, and take breaks when you need it.

If you are looking for ways to continue pursuing your career in nursing while having greater flexibility when it comes to working hours, learn how you can become a Care Pro.

About the Writer
Tan Jia Hui
Jia Hui is a content marketer who loves helping others and hopes to make this world a kinder place in any way she can. In her pockets of free time, you can find her snacking on ice cream and fries with her 80-year-young Grandma at home.
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