Ugh. Working the “night shift.” No matter your field of work, this phrase is famous for causing collective groans among coworkers, and when the boss starts to ask for eager volunteers, rapid deflections of “I’m busy” or “I can’t” usually follow.
With nursing, this distaste for the night shift is no different. While most patients are asleep and foot traffic within a hospital is minimal, working a nursing night shift does have its fair share of downsides.
First, those 12-hour shifts can start as early as 8pm and run until 8 am. These all-nighters can majorly disrupt the beautiful sleep schedule that you’ve cultivated for most of your life.
Additionally, working the night shift can disrupt personal connections with friends and family. With opposite downtimes, it’s often difficult to stay in touch. Night shift workers can also find it difficult to complete basic chores, as most grocery stores and other retail outlets are generally shut down when you’re awake.
Should this nightly schedule go on long enough without relief, your overall health, sleep cycle and social patterns are sure to be negatively affected.
With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of tips for making those long, dark hours more bearable.
6 tips for night shift nursing
Make sleep a priority at home
When you get home from a long, stressful workday, it may be tempting to do a little rest and relaxation with a movie. However, to accommodate your night shift nurse sleep schedule, try to prioritize sleep. (In short, go to bed!)
By getting to bed at a consistent time, you’re more likely to maximize the amount of quality sleep you get, and this restful period for night shift nurses can have an overwhelmingly positive effect.
Ways that you can make sure this sleep remains uninterrupted include:
- Hang blackout curtains on your windows to darken the room and ensure no light gets in.
- Use a silk eye mask to cover your face and cut back on the ambient light from your phone or other electronic devices.
- Use earplugs to reduce daytime noise and increase your hours of sleep.
- Do not drink caffeinated beverages prior to going to bed.
- Consume caffeine cautiously.
Speaking of caffeine: Be intentional with your intake.
Preparing for night shift nursing with a good cup of coffee can be a great source of energy, and it may help keep nighttime drowsiness away. However, if you have too much of it too close to bedtime, it may interfere with your sleep. When you do fall asleep with caffeine in your system, it will ultimately disrupt your natural sleep rhythm.
Take care of your nutrition
Nutrition should always be number one priority for keeping your overall health in great shape, whether you work the day shift or the night.
When you’re working the night shift, healthy nutritional practices can also help you stay alert instead of crashing and burning to an inglorious end in the last few hours in the morning.
To eat healthy food in a way that is more productive for your night shift:
- Aim for frequent, small, “lighter” meals that contain a mix of fruits, vegetables and nuts, along with high-protein and low-fat foods.
- Are you at a higher risk for an energy crash? Stay away from snacks that contain a high amount of refined sugar.
- Instead, eat healthy snacks, like carrots, cucumbers and granola bars.
Build relationships with your co-workers
It may sound a bit dire, especially if you’re an introvert, but building solid and professional relationships with your co-workers and other registered nurses is key.
This is especially true on the night shift when fewer people are working. If you need help with a patient, you may have to be resourceful in finding the supplies and fellow healthcare professionals who can adequately support you. As the saying goes, “No one is too rich to throw away a friend.”
That said: if you’re on friendly terms with your fellow night-shift workers, it can ensure that your shift will run more smoothly. You’ll have others to lean on when you need a hand and, mostly, you’ll have someone to keep you company. A good friend during those late-night hours can make your shift seem far less lonely.
Sometimes, a shift can become monotonous. When it does, fatigue is quick to set in. With fatigue, your productivity and, in turn, your attention to patient care can begin to suffer, so you’ll need to get a handle on it quickly.
To fight off that drowsiness, do a little exercise to keep your mind alert for the remainder of your shift. Walk to the cafeteria and back again, or climb a set of stairs to keep yourself awake. Exercise has the added benefit of lifting your mood.
Additionally, you can buy yourself women’s compression pants or men’s compression pants to give yourself some added support during your more active shifts. Then, once you get home, you can go through your regular wind-down routine and make sure that you get enough sleep.
No surprise here, but you should always keep yourself hydrated, especially when working the night shift. Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout your shift by keeping plenty on hand. Bottles with tracker marks are helpful. Dehydration can leave you feeling ill, negatively affecting the quality of care you give to your patients.
Get home safely
Lastly, be well aware of your limitations, especially if you drive yourself home after long night shifts. Adrenaline may get you through most of your shift, but what about the end of it?
To keep yourself and others safe on the road, try carpooling, using public transportation, or—if you absolutely need it—pulling over to the side of the road to take a nap.
The night shift’s silver linings
Of course, not everything about the night shift is terrible. Sometimes, it can be a blessing (to the right person), especially if you’re a night owl by nature or love a little silence. With that in mind, here are a few perks of the night shift.
When hospitals want to attract willing volunteers for undesirable hours, workplaces often offer financial incentives for super late hours. If you work a nursing night shift, you can expect a higher pay rate. If you’re saving up for something big, the extra funds may come in handy.
Here’s the thing: a hospital will always have people in it. Extensive healthcare facilities are never truly “empty.”
However, during the night, public visitors are not around. The only people you’ll be overseeing are your fellow healthcare professionals and the patients under your care. Are you looking for some relative peace and quiet? Do you simply prefer to be around fewer people when watching over your patients? If so, a night shift may be the best bet for you.
Bonding strongly as a team
This ties into our earlier tip, but one of the final benefits of working a night shift is the camaraderie you build with your team. You’ll get to know them better and quicker just by the sheer reduction in your night shift team’s size. You’ll also have time to bond over the rigors of that very late shift, which can make monotonous spells in the early morning pass quicker.
From us to you, good luck on your night shifts. You got this!