10 Smart Tips for Night Shift Nurses

Don’t just survive working nights; thrive at it! These 10 smart tips for night shift nurses will help you conquer whatever is holding you back from being the best nurse you can be.

If you have a night shift nurse job, 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 messy and hectic should an emergency occur overnight.

10 Tips for Night Shift Nurses

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 in your shift when you just can’t manage without it, for a last-minute alertness-boosting aid. That way, you won’t feel the coffee crash until your shift ends.

#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 the typical clinic or hospital day traffic. At night, it’s often more difficult to stick to a routine because there can be long stretches where nothing is happening, only to be interrupted by a serious emergency.

By always being prepared for an unexpected event, you won’t have to brace yourself as hard should you suddenly need help during an emergency at 3:30 a.m.

#3 – Know your Allies

Night shift nurses in hospitals are often known for being relatively 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 significant advantage to you in the long run.

#4 – Request the Day Shift Whenever Available

Some nurses who work only the night shift complain about stalling their career momentum, 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 with the significant 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, you may want to consider adding some day shift hours, 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 improve your mood and that of your patients, who not only have to put up with a medical incident but also stay awake at whatever remote hour it is.

#6 – Eat Well (and bring a snack)

You’ll want 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. If you can only eat a small amount before work because you’re not accustomed to eating at unusual hours just yet, make sure to bring a snack 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 needed.

#7 – Take Your Time

During the day shift, you may have had to wait in traffic for an hour or so 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 must 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 doze off during nighttime hours when things get slow accidentally, 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 ensure you wake up if you accidentally fall asleep on the toilet during your bathroom break. Or take a short break and give yourself a laugh with these night shift memes.

#9 – Be Honest to Yourself and to Others

Not everyone is cut out for working the night shift. 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 well-being and 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 you’re 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 of coming in and complaining 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 adjust your routine and 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.

Night Shift Nurses – Thrive At Your Job

Maybe it wasn’t your first choice, but there are so many benefits to working as a night shift nurse. Yes, there are struggles, but it can be so rewarding once you learn how to thrive in your job (and get your life to work with your odd hours). The most important thing you will need is support from family and friends.

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30 thoughts on “10 Smart Tips for Night Shift Nurses”

  1. spot on: us nightshifters are such buddies cause we are basically just having sleep overs every shift.

    Also: a tip to work night shift is not go to dayshift- some of us are actually born for it and don’t consider that a “tip”

  2. Obviously written by a “dayshifter ” lol
    Have worked both shifts and nightshift where I am now is actually busier. So tired of the tall tale of nightshift being slow. You are usually understaffed and do have administration to pull for help when you get over your head. We are tight knit because we rely on eachother when times get tough. Not because we have the so called down times.

  3. I did nightshift for 45 years and I loved loved loved the 12 hours, never fell asleep even if I slept only 4-5 hours (because of overtime the night before when all hell broke loose). But then I was born a “night owl” even as a kid when my siblings were deeply asleep I was reading with my flashlight o:) when they were up I was still sleeping. Now that I’m retired at age 72 I still am the night owl doing things at home or reading. Luckily my husband is a night owl too !!! )
    I miss being at the bedside.I’m an RN,BSN-Midwife, did home births and delivered many many babies at home and in the Hospital. I also loved patients who spoke another language (they always gave patients with language problems to me o:). My first profession was being a Translator-Interpreter at an Atomic Center. Thus my languages served me well. One day I had a Vietnamese patient and when she delivered I said “congratulations” in Vietnamese. She said to the ones in the room : “She speaks Vietnamese, she speaks Vietnamese”. I said : well only 2 words : Hello and congrats.. I knew how to say “congratulations” and “hello”in 50 languages.
    Do you feel the “nostalgia” in my heart and spirit !!!! But I must say that “nursing” is changing : computer charting with complicated programs takes 3/4 of the time that was before spent at the bedside. We used to have a very simple EMS with almost no clicking in and out, but the last 3 years everything changed. I didn’t become a nurse to spend my time at the computer desk o:( Riki Ribi

  4. I’ve been doing nights for 10 years at a behavioral health hospital with senior patients.  I’m an aide and work along side another aide and an RN.  I agree with the other comments as far as nights aren’t always slow and just because it’s night time doesn’t mean the patients sleep.  I’ve learned over the years how important my sleep is and I aim for at least 8 hours between shifts.  I drink my share of coffee but stay away from the energy drinks.  It’s easy to snack on junk food so I try and bring left overs and healthy snacks at home.  A person pretty much has to get along with their coworkers at night since there are less staff and team work is what it’s all about.  By morning we’re usually all a bit irritable.

  5. Thanks for the advice! I just recently started working nights after years on day shift. I did this to get my foot in the door in an area that is hard to get a job at. I will switch to days as soon as a position comes up. While I am enjoying the extra pay, my personal life is suffering and I’m struggling to adjust. I appreciate the advice.

    1. I was surprised but after a while of working on night shift I really struggled to move back to days. Even now I find myself staying up in the middle of the night and getting my best work done. Go into it with an open mind. You may find you enjoy it a lot more than you ever thought you would. I certainly did. 🙂

  6. The Nerdy Nurse

    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.

  7. The Nerdy Nurse

    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. 🙂

  8. The Nerdy Nurse

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

  9. The Nerdy Nurse

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

  10. The Nerdy Nurse

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

  11. Denise Allen Engeln

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

  12. Kathy Henderson

    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.

  13. Kim Sprueill-Blaylock

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

      1. I worked for 2 years or a med/surg floor.
        We did have downtime. Not every night and not tons, but it was there.

        Every hospital is different and every shift is different.

        I also don’t think the guest poster meant to insinuate that working on night shift means you will have downtime or that you work less than any other shift. In fact, night shift had different busy times and stress levels.

  14. 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!

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

    1. Amen to this. I brought flavored seltzer water and wasabi peas to have in the car on the way home in the morning.

  17. Holly Sherlock RN Phd

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

  18. 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!!

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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!

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