Even for night owl nurses, working the night shift poses special challenges, but also unique rewards. If you’re a new nurse just starting the night shift or just want some tips to make the night shift easier, we’re going to give you some tried and true night shift survival tips from a 6-year night shift veteran nurse along with how an ER nurse handles the night shift.
How to survive the night shift for nurses
Keep a schedule
Creating a schedule – and sticking to it – is crucial to night shift survival. A schedule that includes sleeping, eating, running errands, family time, and social life will help ensure you get the sleep and nutrition you need to stay healthy while having enough time to have a life outside work.
“Coping with the night shift, you have to keep a routine,” says Zack Stavrou, RN, who works the night shift in a busy ER. “In the morning I try to sleep in as long as I can. I’ll wake up for lunch, eat, maybe do some chores or run some errands, work out, then I head out for work. I finish my shift and get home at about 7:45 a.m., eat breakfast, shower and I’m in bed by 8:30 a.m. and usually sleep until 3:30. If I don’t have work, I’ll get up around noon and try to be productive”
At night, you’ll typically have fewer eating options, since most everything is closed. If you’re lucky, your facility may have a cafeteria. But meal prep is an easy way to eat nutritious meals that will keep you fueled for the long hours while helping you stay healthy, preventing weight gain, and reducing risks for other health issues.
Get your sleep
The one struggle that all nurses on the night shift have is getting the sleep they need. Because you’re trying to sleep when the sun is up and everyone else is active, you’ll need to create a dark, quiet sleeping space where you won’t be disturbed.
“On your first night of night shift try and go to bed late and sleep in so you’re not completely drained your first shift,” says Annie, an RN who has racked up over six years of night shift experience and writes for NursesPRN.
Here are a few links to the most popular must-have things she recommends to help you get your ZZZ’s:
Getting enough sleep isn’t just crucial to feeling rested and staying healthy; inadequate sleep can negatively affect your work performance and the quality of care you provide your patients.
Stay active and healthy
Although working the night shift can leave you tired, exercising and staying active is crucial to your physical and mental health. Maintaining a regular exercise routine will help reduce your risk of health problems, boost energy levels, and reduce stress levels.
“I have found that exercising and working out actually gives me more energy for the night shift, “ says Zack.
Most of us don’t drink enough water. Staying well hydrated during the night shift is key to maintaining health, energy levels, and mental focus. Coffee and tea don’t count – you need water.
Moderate caffeine intake
Yes, coffee, tea, and energy drinks may be the fuel on which night nurses run, you should still moderate your caffeine intake. Overdoing caffeine can affect your sleep, cause caffeine “crashes”, dehydration, anxiety, nervousness, heart palpitations, and headaches – c’mon nurses, we know this.
Annie says,” A mistake a new night shift nurse may make is pounding caffeine past 3 a.m. I promise, you will not be able to go to bed when you get home in the morning. Stop drinking caffeine around 3 a.m. and instead drink water or keep moving to stay awake.”
Plan social life
One of the most difficult things for nurses working the night shift can be maintaining family time and a social life, since everyone else will be doing things when you need to sleep.
“Working the night shift has decreased the amount of time I can spend with my family,” Zack said. “My wife works 8:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., so on the days I work I get to see her for 10 minutes if I’m lucky!”
“I get time with my family by being intentional about scheduling time with them,” Zack said. “. . . like really setting aside time to be with them. I may have to sacrifice some sleep sometimes, but it is worth it to get to see the people I love.”
Setting aside predetermined times for social activities and making plans ahead of time will help ensure you can spend time with those you care about and still have a social life.
The night shift, with all its quirks, challenges, and benefits can open up opportunities for higher pay, career advancement, or simply a change of pace. With these tips, you can not only survive the night shift, but thrive.
Are you a night shift nurse? Tell us what special tips and tricks you use to survive the graveyard shift by joining our growing community of nurses around the world at NurseHivePrep.com.