Night shift nurse graphic

How to Survive the Night Shift

You are either a night owl or not, so they say. However, health care is a profession that involves 24-hour care, and values shift workers. Sometimes in this industry, you end up working overnight whether you want to or not. Learning how to adapt to working overnight will likely be the hardest part. When your body wants to be sleeping, patients still need to be cared for and deserve the best care possible. 

Pros of Working the Night Shift in Health Care

Some of the benefits of working night shifts are that the hospital is generally quieter and less busy, so there’s time to catch up on things that didn’t get done during the day. Family and visitors are generally out of the hospital by the time nurses are arriving to work, so they usually don’t have that added dynamic to deal with. 

Night nurses also tend to be more autonomous in the way that they work making them excellent leaders. Night nurses also benefit from shift differentials, which is extra compensation for working a traditionally undesirable schedule. Health care professionals’ pay is 20% higher on average, according to studies done by National Nurses United.

Cons of Working the Night Shift in Health Care

The typical night shift for full-time nurses is from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., but some shifts begin as late as 11 p.m. For those working nights, it can be stressful to maintain relationships with your friends and family, as you now need to spend some time sleeping during the day to make up for hours lost while you were at work. 

You’ll likely have to make adjustments to your personal life responsibilities to get chores done or errands run. Scheduling things like appointments and childcare while you sleep need to be discussed before you start on the night shift.

Advice for Getting Through the Night

Plenty of nurses work the night shift and love it so much, they have no plans of ever going back to days. Getting in the routine of working nights can be difficult, though. Here are some tips to get you through the night:

  • Give your body some time to adjust to your new schedule. It can take a few weeks for you to really get the hang of working through the night. Stick to a schedule.
  • The night shift can feel different and slower than the day because patients are sleeping, and regular staff and clinics are closed. Just be sure you know what to do and who to call when you need support.
  • Make friends with your coworkers. Night shift nurses rely on each other so much, and having friends to go to work and see, can be so much more motivating. 
  • Take your breaks and even nap if your facility allows it. You need time to rest to be able to provide the best possible patient care and to remain alert and focused.
  • Make sure you pack a healthy lunch and enough food to sustain you over your shift as the cafeteria will be closed. Avoid going to the vending machines for snacks and sodas that will leave you crashing after a few hours. 
  • When you feel tired, get moving! Do some exercise to get the blood flowing. You can walk to hallways, do some squats and lunges, anything to get the body moving and fight drowsiness.

What About Sleep?

Long working hours and night shifts have been linked to a number of health issues, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Sleep helps our bodies regulate hormones and reset; not getting enough could leave you at an increased risk for heart disease, metabolic disorders, obesity, and certain cancers.

Here are some helpful tips on how to make the most of your sleep:

  • Make sure you have a cool, dark, and comfortable space to sleep. Keeping the room cooler will help you stay asleep longer. Darkness is also important so your body is not confused about the time difference. It may be helpful to invest in a sleep mask, blackout curtains, and even a fan.
  • Make sure the environment is quiet. Some nurses use earplugs, while others prefer sound machines.
  • When you arrive home after a night of work, avoid technology; put your phone away and don’t watch TV.
  • Avoid caffeine after a certain hour of the night. One nurse we interviewed stated she won’t drink caffeine past four in the morning, otherwise falling asleep is too difficult.
  • Avoid alcohol before attempting to sleep. Don’t meet coworkers for drinks after your shift, as alcohol disrupts your natural sleep cycle.
  • Set aside a proper amount of time for sleep and let your friends and family know they shouldn’t be bothering you during that time frame. Also, set your phone to “do not disturb” or leave it outside of your bedroom altogether. 

Many nurses who work overnight really enjoy it, and actually prefer it to the daytime work. They enjoy the slower pace and the comradery of fellow night-shift employees. Keep in mind that as much as you feel alert while you’re at work, part of the job involves having a plan in place to get home safely. If you can get a ride or carpool with another nurse, you could help each other stay awake by talking. 

If you have to drive alone, stay hydrated, and drink cold water on the way home. Other tactics can include calling someone over hands-free Bluetooth, or listening to the radio turned up loud. In any case, if you feel yourself getting too fatigued to drive, it’s best to pull over, park safely, and get some rest.

If you are interested in picking up some night (or day) shifts in your area, sign up with Clipboard Health