7 Tips to Stay Awake on Night Shift

Many new night shift nurses ask the question, “How do I stay awake on night shift?” The body isn’t meant to be up at those hours, and there are serious physiological and psychological forces working against you. Your body releases chemicals at night that encourage you to go to sleep. So if you find you’re having trouble staying awake at night, it’s just because you’re human. Even so, it can be done, and many nurses thrive on the night shift. Some love night shift nurse jobs so much they would even tell you that they would never go back to day shift

While you can’t re-engineer how your body is designed, you may be able to change your habits and routine to make night shift a little easier. In fact, you may even become one of those nurses who would never go back to the day shift yourself. Not to mention, working the night shift can mean in increase in how much an RN makes.

Some tips and tricks you can use will help you stay alert and useful during a night shift. The following are helpful ways to keep you awake during a night shift.

Tips to Stay Awake on Night Shift

1. Drink Plenty of Water

Water is essential to life. It’s also essential to thriving on night shift. Getting too sleepy is hard to do if you have to go to the bathroom. So, staying very hydrated will let your bladder serve as your personal sleep deterrent. Also, drinking water can help increase the oxygenation of your blood level, may increase alertness, and help you stay awake more easily during a long night shift. Keeping bottled water in the fridge or a tumbler or thermos handy is essential.

2. Keep Your Mind Stimulated

Night shifts can sometimes have periods of downtime. It’s not a routine occurrence, but it happens. These moments of brain inactivity can make it difficult to stay awake. So you’ve got to keep your brain engaged. Ensuring that you have something to keep your brain stimulated you can reduce the risk of dozing off. Bring an interesting book to read, nursing CEs, organize the med room,  or perhaps work on plans to improve workflow and process in your unit. Another way to stimulate your mind might be to work puzzles or brain teasers. Or give yourself a good laughh with these night shift memes. Whatever way you can keep your mind working can help keep you awake.

3. Stay Moving

If you start to doze off on a night shift a great strategy to stay awake is to start moving. Find an activity that requires you to move around your unit instead of being planted firmly in a chair. Downtime at night is a great time to organize and count supplies to ensure everything is stocked and ready to go. In addition to helping keep you awake, it will also help improve the workflow for you and your fellow nurses. You might also try to find a few minutes on your break to do light exercises to keep your blood pumping and increase your alertness. There’s nothing quite like squats at 2 am to keep you alert.

4. Get Plenty of Sleep

Many nurses don’t get enough sleep. Working at night does not mean you require less sleep. In fact, you may require more sleep because you are working against your body’s natural circadian rhythms. You can’t expect to stay awake all night if you’ve stayed awake all day. Respect your body’s need for sleep and ensure that you’re getting what you need to be productive and alert at work. Who knows when they’ll send the next admission. It could be one of those dreaded admissions at shift change and you’ll want to be alert to ensure you don’t miss anything.

5. Healthy Eating

Many times on the night shift, you might be encouraged to eat one large, heavy meal. Eating a large meal will only help to increase your potential for sleepiness. Space out your eating and eat small healthy meals, boosting your metabolism and decreasing an after-meal crash. It can also help you to lose weight and stay healthy. Since many nurses find they gain weight on the night shift, this shift to healthy eating habits may help prevent weight gain and increase your overall health.

6. Refocus Your Thoughts

When you’re on a long night shift, you might find your mind wandering to comfortable places like your warm bed or your nice fluffy pillow. These thoughts can make you sleepier and make it more difficult to stay awake. Instead of thinking of nice places to sleep, think of places to stay awake. When your mind begins to wander to a soft bed, instead think of high-energy rock climbing, hiking, sky diving, an incredible waterfall, or other events that require you to be very alert. Staying awake on the night shift requires a keen mind and focus.

7. Stay Cool

If the thoughts of snuggling up with a warm blanket straight from the warmer begin to cross your mind, steer clear. (You laugh because you’ve either seen it or have done it yourself.) Warming up triggers your body to slow its processes. Keeping cool will help you to stay alert and decrease the risks of dozing off.

Staying Awake on Night Shift

Staying awake on night shift can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. With time and focus you can make the night shift tolerable and maybe even enjoyable (and for a small fraction, the best thing since sliced bread). The above tips are just a fraction of the ways to help you stay awake during a long night shift. There are many other ways to meet the challenge.

You can do that if you hate the night shift and want to shift back. FreshRN shares Tips for Switching from Night Shift to Day Shift.

Do you have any tips to stay awake on the night shift?

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7 thoughts on “7 Tips to Stay Awake on Night Shift”

  1. Thanks for explaining that staying cooler in temperature can help you stay alert. I’m glad to know there are methods out there to help people stay awake.

  2. These tips are very good advice but I’ve worked night shift for 28 yrs now out of an almost 40 yr nursing career and it never gets any easier even following this advice, also now with recent research I am worried about the long term health effects .Anne

  3. Good tips. I find it is very important to be rested before you come to work. I have to have my afternoon nap before I come or it’s not good! I usually have a cup of cappuccino about 2 or 3:00 a.m. which is a treat and helps perk me up. I catch up on work e-mails & required training we have to do on the computer when I do have downtime. Overall, I like working night shift and would never want to work days.

  4. I understand the importance of hydration, but drinking too much water, too closely to the end of a night shift can lead to interruptions in sleep during the day. Also, please explain how “you can expect to stay awake all night if you’ve stayed awake all day”??

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