Night Nurse: 4 Tips for Surviving Night Shift

Being a nurse can be physically and mentally exhausting. These challenges are magnified when you’re working night shifts.

 Night shift nurses often get a bad rap. The perception is that night shift is “easier” than days and patients are “sleeping” for most of our shift.

 That’s simply not the case. Having worked on both day and night shifts, I can say that night shift is significantly more difficult than days.

Night shift nurses don’t have the support and resources that are available during the day. Yes, there is a physician on call at night, but in my experience its usually 1 physician (and NP) for the floor and one for the ED.   

Also, support staff on nights is often nonexistent. I’ve worked on night shift for over 4 years, and I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve had more than one CNA on the unit – if any.

I’m looking to discourage anyone looking to work on night shift. Working on nights is a different environment from day shift and I genuinely believe that working on nights has made be a better nurse.

I’ve worked on nights as a new grad, while pregnant, and while adjusting to being a first-time mom! While it wasn’t always easy, my opinion is every nurse should experience working on night shift at least once in their career. Below I’ve listed 4 tips that helped me to manage my work-life balance while working on nights.  

Tip 1: GET ENOUGH SLEEP

This is easier said than done! Your body naturally wants to sleep at night and be awake during the day. Not to mention this is the schedule for most of the world.

Coffee/tea/energy drinks can be helpful, but be sure to limit your caffeine intake, and only drink when needed. i.e. not at the beginning or end of your shift!

I also purchased black out curtains which helped tremendously. Often, after working a 12hr shift overnight I would get this burst of energy when I got home and had trouble falling asleep. The black out curtains kept my room dark enough to trick my mind into thinking it was nighttime.

While my body was still adjusting to its new sleep-wake cycle, I would sometimes take a melatonin to help me wind down and fall asleep. * Please consult your physician before taking any medication*

It will take some getting used to as your body adjusts to its new circadian rhythm so be patient with yourself!

Tip 2: STAY ACTIVE DURING YOUR SHIFT

No matter how much sleep I got during the day, there was a certain period during the night where I was extremely sleepy!

Staying active helped me fight through those rough hours. I would do just about anything to keep busy. I would chart my assessments standing up, restock lab equipment, PPE, and the code cart – there is always something that needs to be done.

Tip 3: GET FAMILY AND FRIENDS ON BOARD

There’s nothing worse than having your sleep disrupted by a well-meaning family member or friend! When I worked nights, I made sure my friends and family knew my schedule so that they weren’t calling, texting, OR knocking on my door while I was trying to sleep.

As an extra precaution, I made a sign to put on my door and kept my phone on silent while I slept.

If you have children, family and friends can help take care of them so your rest isn’t interrupted. When my son was born, my sisters helped with babysitting so I could sleep.

If this isn’t an option for you, I recommend looking into before and after care programs with your child’s school or daycare for assistance.  

Tip 4: PLAN AHEAD

. . . well, as much as you can. As nurses we know that our work schedule gets changed all the time, and we don’t always get the days we request.

That being said, figuring out what schedule worked best for me was a game changer. Some nurses prefer their shifts spaced out over the week. Others prefer to knock out all 3 shifts in a row and be done with it. What worked for me was working 2 shifts, having a night off, and then working my 3rd.

It’s inevitable that you’re going to miss out on things while working nights. I would do my best to schedule appointments and time spent with loved ones around the days I knew I would be off work. It takes some effort but working nights while having a good home-life balance can be done!

Did you find this post helpful? Please share to help someone else! Leave your thoughts in a comment below!

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