How to Love the Night Shift

Article Categories: Nurse On the Job & Taking Care of Yourself

At some point, every RN gets scheduled for some night shifts. It’s not easy to turn your body clock around, but working nights actually has some benefits:

• The entire hospital gets quieter and less hectic
• No scheduled trips for tests, scans, or treatments
• With most patients sleeping, nurses are able to focus on patients who are sicker
• Nurses get to use more of their clinical and assessment skills
• Fewer medical students, residents, fellows, and attending physicians
• Staff tends to work closely together and develop strong relationships
• Shift differential can boost your income

Adapting to the night shift takes special planning. Here are some tips from experienced nurses who admit that the biggest challenge is staying awake:

1. Nap in the afternoon or evening before starting your first night shift. Even a few hours will make a difference; otherwise, you’ll be up for more than 24 hours.

2. Don’t go to sleep right away when you get home. Just as you would on a day shift, watch some TV, have a meal, do some chores. Then take a shower and head to bed.

3. Get eight hours of sleep. It can be tempting to stay up and enjoy the day, but if you’re doing more than one night, your body and brain are begging for rest.

4. Imitate darkness with room-darkening shades or curtains. Wear an eye mask to block out light. If your room isn’t quiet, wear earplugs or get a white-noise machine.

5. Turn off the phone ringer and put the laptop away. No distractions. Remember, you are tricking your body into thinking it’s night.

6. Do not rely on sleep medications, prescription or over-the-counter. Some nurses take melatonin when they get home in the morning with good results.

7. Eat a full meal before going to work. Whether it’s breakfast or dinner food, you need energy. Cafeterias may not always be open, or sometimes there’s just a grill serving greasy junk. Bring fruit, snacks, or leftovers.

8. Hydrate, hydrate! Drink water all night to combat fatigue and keep you functioning.

9. Coffee is fine for the first half of the shift, but if you drink it to stay awake in the early hours, it can interfere with your sleep after you’re home.

10. When you leave work in the morning, wear sunglasses. Sunlight is a trigger that actually wakes people up.

11. Exercise before you go to work, not when you get home. It can be energizing and can keep you awake.

12. If you are truly tired and worried about staying awake when your shift ends, call your family or a friend...take a taxi!

As long as there are hospitals and patients, there will be night shifts. With some discipline and determination, you’ll make it through your rotation--you may even decide to join the night crew. As one nurse said, "All the uptight 'type A personalities' work day shift and all the laid-back, fun, and funny people work nights."