Does the idea of night shift nursing send shivers down your spine?

Have you passed on career advancing opportunities because the position was on the night shift?

Do you ever wonder how your night shift colleagues achieve a work-life balance?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you’re not alone. For most nurses, the idea of working the night shift automatically conjures images of sleep deprived clinicians racing to answer a never-ending series of call lights. While it’s undeniable that night shift nursing has its own unique challenges, the truth is that none of these factors are insurmountable.

Come along with us as we explore seven night shift nursing pro tips that can help make nursing after dark a rewarding experience.

Night Shift Nursing Tips

1. Schedule Your Sleep

Night Shift Nursing TipsWorking through the night and trying to sleep during the day runs contrary to your body’s natural circadian rhythm. However, by carefully planning your sleep schedule and creating an environment that is conducive to rest, you can help your body make a successful transition to working nights. To begin with, consistently schedule 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep for the same time every day, even on your days off. Ask your family, friends, roommates, etc. to be respectful and considerate during these hours. Invest in equipment that promotes sleep. Room darkening curtains, white noise machines and eye masks are just a few of the countless items that you can purchase to help make falling and staying asleep easier.

Night Shift Nursing Pro Tip: Plan and stick to a sleep schedule and invest in equipment that promotes rest and relaxation.

2. Plan, Plan, Plan

As a night shift nurse, it is easy to fall into the habit of going directly to bed when you get home from your shift. However, doing so substantially limits the amount of time you have available to accomplish personal tasks and goals, increasing overall stress and dissatisfaction that impacts your work life. Successful night shift nurses know that longevity on the graveyard shift comes down to making and sticking to a schedule. Make the first 3-4 hours immediately following your shift highly productive by deciding in advance what personal tasks or goals you are going to tackle. Run errands. Exercise. Do chores. Meal plan and prep. By making time for your essential personal tasks, you will feel more successful and accomplished and less like you are trapped in a constant game of catch-up.

Night Shift Nursing Pro Tip: To feel successful and accomplished, dedicate the first 3-4 hours immediately after your shift to accomplishing personal tasks.

3. Pack Your Lunch

Night Shift Nursing TipsNo one knows better than a nurse the benefits of a nutritious, balanced diet. Eating foods in moderation from all the food groups promotes mental alertness, helps protect against psychological neurosis (like depression) and ensures that the body has enough energy to carry out its essential functions. However, many night shift nurses struggle with what to eat after the sun goes down. While drive-thru and vending machine foods are both tempting and convenient, these options are frequently high in calories and sugars and are likely to cause a “crash and burn” effect. Instead, pack meals and snacks that are high in protein, low in fat and rich in complex carbohydrates to ensure that you have enough energy and stamina to get through your entire shift.

Night Shift Nursing Pro Tip: Skip the drive-thru and vending machines and pack balanced meals and snacks to sustain a consistent level of energy throughout your shift.

4. Keep Moving

A regular exercise program is a terrific way to improve bone and muscle health and achieve those desired numbers on the scale. However, the benefits of exercise don’t stop there! A 2008 study from the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Georgia found that low to moderate exercise on a regular basis can reduce feelings of fatigue. Additionally, regular exercise has been shown to help brain health and memory, improve sleep quality and produce greater feelings of happiness, all terrific benefits for a nurse working the night shift. In need of a quick energy boost while you’re on the job? Do a lap or two around the floor to get your heart pumping and push those feelings of fatigue away.

Night Shift Nursing Pro Tip: To combat feelings of fatigue, adopt a regular exercise regime and be sure to move about on your shift.

5. Use Caffeine Carefully

Night Shift Nursing TipsIt’s no secret that caffeinated beverages are a night shift nurse’s best friend. Coffee, tea and caffeinated sodas are just a few of the ways that this alertness-enhancing chemical can be consumed. However, taking in too much caffeine or having caffeine too close to your scheduled sleep time can substantially limit your body’s ability to fall and stay asleep. While sensitivity will vary from person to person, the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine recommends stopping caffeine consumption six hours prior to your intended bedtime to mitigate any sleep disturbance effects. To help achieve this goal, pack yourself a flavored water or other non-caffeinated beverage of your choice to drink when the urge to have just one more cup of joe strikes. You’ll sleep better and your body will think it’s been given a treat.

Night Shift Nursing Pro Tip: Stop consuming caffeine six hours prior to your bedtime and pack a non-caffeinated substitute to have later in your shift.  

6. Plan Your Life Outside of Work

Nurses that work the night shift can feel cut-off or isolated from their friends and family members. Since it is highly likely that your schedule will be the exact opposite of those that are closest to you, it will be extremely beneficial to make and keep plans whenever possible. For instance, after your shift ends and before your family member or friend goes to work, make plans to meet for breakfast or a quick cup of coffee (decaffeinated for you, of course). As you get ready to start your day and your family member or friend is unwinding for the evening, schedule a phone call to chat and get caught up on each other’s lives. While it will take a little creativity and flexibility, staying connected will improve your night shift nursing experience.

Night Shift Nursing Pro Tip: Don’t leave things to chance. Find creative ways to stay connected with family members and friends.

7. Establish Friendships with Fellow Night Shift Nurses

Night Shift Nursing TipsSince most doctors, managers and directors work during business hours, night shift nurses often have a greater amount of autonomy than their day shift counterparts. Consequently, less experienced night shift nurses can greatly benefit from the experience and wisdom of their more seasoned colleagues as they adjust to a new set of policies and procedures. If you’re new to night shift nursing, take the time to get to know your colleagues, both professionally and personally. Ask questions and seek out their advice when you are unsure how to proceed. Be willing to lend a hand when their workload gets busy and your patients are settled. You’ll find that these attempts at camaraderie will pay dividends as you adjust to an alternative work schedule and it won’t be long before you’re the seasoned pro that others are looking to for advice.

Night Shift Nursing Pro Tip: Seek out and become friends with seasoned night shift nurses. Utilize their knowledge and experience to be successful.

Consistently implementing these seven night shift nursing pro tips will help ensure that you have the energy, stamina and support that you need to successfully adapt to an alternative work schedule. Most importantly, you will be able to meet your patients’ needs with empathy and attentiveness. If you’re interested in exploring different shift and/or location options, don’t hesitate to contact one of our staffing experts today. They will be happy to explain the different career opportunities that are waiting for you.