10 Tips for Nurses on the Night Shift

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If you’re scheduled to work the night shift as a nurse, you better start saving up on that sleep and getting ready for long nights that will switch between being arduously boring and tremendously busy, seemingly at random. Unlike the day shift in hospitals and medical clinics, the night shift often sees a less steady flow of traffic, though things can get really messy and hectic should an emergency occur overnight. Below, read through 10 tips that can be helpful to you as you prepare for the night shift routine, so you’re not instantly overwhelmed whether you’re rotating from the day shift or starting a brand new position entirely.

#1 – Avoid the Coffee (for the most part)

One of the worst ways to set yourself up for an energy crash later in your shift is by relying too heavily on mugs of coffee to keep yourself awake and alert. Drinking a lot of coffee early in your shift may help you feel energized at the start of your shift, but you’ll find yourself lacking only a few hours later, and eventually you won’t be able to stay alert no matter how much coffee you stuff yourself with. If you need coffee, try a single cup later on in your shift when you just can’t manage any longer without it, for a last-minute alertness-boosting aid. That way, you won’t feel the coffee crash until at least your shift is over.

#2 – Be Prepared for the Unexpected

When you regularly work the day shift, you can expect either a steady stream of patients, or at least know the ebbs and flows of typical clinic or hospital day traffic. At night, it’s often more difficult to stick to a routine, namely because there can be long stretches where nothing is happening, only to be interrupted by a serious emergency out of nowhere. By always being prepared for an unexpected event, you won’t have to brace yourself as hard should you suddenly be needed to help during an emergency at 3:30am.

#3 – Know your Allies

Night shift teams in hospitals are often known for being rather tight-knit, probably as a response to the lack of urgent happenings every other minute, allowing nurses, doctors, and other personnel to get to know each other better. Night shifts can be hard to sit through, especially if you’re more of a day person, so knowing who you can rely on during those long, rote stretches can be a big advantage to you in the long run.

#4 – Request the Day Shift Whenever Available

Some nurses who work only the night shift complain about having their career momentum stalled, particularly those who were moving up quickly when previously working the day shift. This has less to do with the job performance of those working the night shift and more to do with the big advantage of working during the day, which is the networking aspect. Most of the hospital or clinic’s higher-ups will be at work only during the day for the most part, meaning they’ll interact primarily with day-shift nurses per routine. If you’re struggling to get noticed and only work night hours at the moment, you may want to consider adding some day shift hours as well, if available, to raise your visibility to those who can help you move forward on your career path.

#5 – Wear Bright Colors

When there’s no natural sunlight to keep you in a cheery, alert mood, and you only have dully-colored nursing scrubs to stare at otherwise, you can feel like you’re living in a muted environment, which can be depressing. By wearing bright, cheerfully colored nursing scrubs, you can not only boost your mood but also that of your patients, who not only have to put up with a medical incident but also staying awake at whatever remote hour it is.

#6 – Eat Well (and bring a snack)

You’ll want to be sure to eat a full-fledged meal before you begin your shift. If you sleep right up until the start of your night shift, try eating what would amount to a typical breakfast before you begin work, to help you get your day started on the right note. If instead you sleep immediately after your shift, try eating something more akin to a late lunch or dinner. That way, you’ll help normalize your night shift routine, and keep those hunger pangs at bay as well. If you can only manage to eat a small amount prior to work because you’re not accustomed to eating at unusual hours just yet, make sure to bring a snack along with you. You may not be hungry right before work, but you may need a pick-me-up during your shift to keep your attention where it needs to be.

#7 – Take your Time

During the day shift, you may have had to wait in traffic for an hour or so in order to reach work. The night shift has no such traffic qualms, so don’t feel rushed to leave for the hospital or clinic hours before you need to be there. The more you treat your night shift like a day shift, the more normalized your routine will become, and you’ll be able to maximize your free time more ably.

#8 – Have a Backup

If you’re the type of person who tends to accidentally doze off during nighttime hours when things get slow, you may need a backup to keep you on-track and on-schedule. Set your cell phone to buzz every fifteen minutes if that helps make sure you wake up should you accidentally fall asleep on the toilet during your bathroom break.

#9 – Be Honest to Yourself and to Others

Not everyone is cut out for working the night shift, and if working long hours overnight is beginning to impede your ability to perform effectively, you need to be honest with yourself and your supervisor. For the sake of your own well-being, as well as the well-being of incoming patients, you need to know when you can’t manage something.

#10 – Adjust as You Go

It can be difficult to prescribe help in scenarios that you’re currently unaware of. Sometimes, there are quirky regulars who come into the hospital at night with similar conditions, and other times there may be an annoyed neighbor who makes a point to come in and complain to your clinic’s staff after-hours. There is a lot of the unexpected to expect on the night shift, so hang in there in the meantime, and make adjustments to your routine and your approach as you go along. Eventually, you’ll adjust just fine, and be ready and waiting for any trouble that may come your way during the wee hours of the hospital or clinic’s schedule.

About the Guest Blogger:

This article was written by Brett of ScrubsGallery.com, a leading online provider of nursing scrubs and other medical uniforms. Utilizing the proper scrubs helps to promote positive attributes in the work environment including cleanliness, hazard-avoidance, sanitation, and professionalism. Brett and the rest of the ScrubsGallery.com team advocate for safe, selective scrub choices for nurses and other professionals in the field, including those options available at our online location.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored guest post.
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  1. says

    I worked night shift for eight long months. I really struggled with sleeping during the day. These are all really great tips for the night shift worker! I have to agree that night shift workers do tend to be a close group of workers who watch out for each other…miss that aspect!

  2. ER_Nurse_Mom says

    Nurses really do seem to be either “day people” or “night people”. Me, I’ve always worked nights, and when I’ve had to orient to a new hospital on day shift, I have been a miserable disaster until I was able to go back to nights. To each their own, that is why we are all different and work together, none better then the rest.

  3. Tom Farrell says

    And: be careful driving home after your shift. As commenter Melissa says, “I really struggled with sleeping during the day”; she probably had SWSD- Shift Work Sleep Disorder.

  4. Tabbiecat66 says

    I do both, i do every weekend 12 hr days but im not a morning person. during the week i stay up at night lol. Lets just say i never get adjusted. I do love working nights tho b/c you seems to avoid administration and families (you know the ones!) , you get to really do your own thing and you can learn alot. The quiet can be nice. But when its crazy, you are right, know your allies and know your resources!!

  5. Holly Sherlock RN Phd says

    No nurse should ever be forced to work a 12h overnight shift. It should always be a choice. Employers of choice offer choice.

  6. Debbie says

    I found the hardest part about working the night shift was the drive home in the morning. Especially if there was alot of traffic that your sitting in. AND…the warmth of the sun making you even more sleepy.

  7. says

    You could definitely see your skills in the work you write.
    The sector hopes for more passionate writers like you who aren’t afraid to say how they believe. All the time follow your heart.

  8. selfemployedMSN says

    I used to work nights and then realized that my own self care was suffering. I really enjoyed your tip about moving to days, but not because I wanted to be more visible to management. I think many times nurses are hesitate to move to days because of the pay differential. But if you are suffering on nights, forget the pay and think of your health. In the end, your health is worth more than the pay differential!

  9. Kim Sprueill-Blaylock says

    The person who wrote this article has obviously never been a true night shift nurse…just sayin…

  10. Kathy Henderson says

    Yeah right slow time at night! I rarely get a real lunch, no breaks, and chronically late from charting! Night shift nurses are more fun though, we make a great team.

  11. Denise Allen Engeln says

    #11 Don’t forget to put on your Depends because you will be lucky to even get a potty break on night shift.

  12. The Nerdy Nurse says

    Kim Sprueill-Blaylock you’re right. I’m pretty sure they were not a nurse, but I thought some of the tips were helpful. :)

  13. The Nerdy Nurse says

    Anna Hurst although not often, when I worked night shift there were some occasions of downtime. Usually during slow times of the year. :)

  14. The Nerdy Nurse says

    Sherri ShutupandRun just be careful of the 6am crash that follows. If you can avoid those energy drinks you’ll feel better overall. :)

  15. The Nerdy Nurse says

    Kathy Henderson when I went to night shift I had a much better experience with the other nurses. They were so much more laid back and friendly than the nurses I worked day shift with. :)

  16. The Nerdy Nurse says

    Denise Allen Engeln I always thought it was dirty how he might shift got short changes on staff. No aides, no transport, and 5 and 6 patients! I was lucky and had supportive coworkers who always helped to make sure we could get a potty break.


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