How to work night shift

This post may contain affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something we may earn a commission. Read our full disclaimer here. Our opinions are not affected by affiliates and are our own.

So, are you working night shift and struggling to stay healthy? Well, today we’re going over some of our top ways on How to Work Night Shift and Stay Healthy while working as a nurse!

Working night shift isn’t easy. It is one of the toughest shifts to work because of it’s demanding nature on our bodies. We, as humans, aren’t meant to stay awake all-night, but someone has to do it!

While there is some good reasons to work night shift, we want you to have all of the tools to help you survive night shift, and keep your body as healthy as possible.

For all of the nursing students or new nurses working night shift for the first time, these are our tips to help you get through it and stay healthy.

What is Nursing Night Shift?

Nursing night shift, or a night shift nurse, typically is from the hours of 7 pm to 7 am. Although there is some nursing areas, such as the Emergency Department or Operating Room that might have slightly different night shift hours (11 pm to 11 am, etc.).

Why is Night Shift Hard?

Night shift is difficult for several reasons.

Firstly, you are typically without a lot of staff. Most of the hospital staff leaves around 3 pm, so once they’re gone, you’re pretty much on your own. While you can always call for help, there isn’t as much to go around and it might take a little longer than during the day.

Another reason is as humans, we aren’t really designed to stay up all night. So, when on night shift, it can be difficult to stay up. Along with that, it can be difficult to stay healthy. Staying up all night means you pretty much sleep all day (or most of it), so you might not be able to hang out with friends, family or eat the way you normally would.

Additionally, your schedule is completely thrown off. While it might take some time, you probably will be able to adjust to a night shift routine. However, for at least a few months, it will definitely be pretty challenging. One of the most difficult parts is trying to have a normal eating routine.

Reasons to Work Night Shift as a Nurse

While there are negatives, there are several pros to working nursing night shift.

  • More Pay: Night shift nurses get something called shift differentials. Usually differentials are in-effect after 3 pm until 7 am. Nurses can get paid anywhere from $2-5 more an hour just for being on night shift!
  • Less Staff: While less staff on nights can be a bad thing, it can also be a good thing as well. There is less noise and commotion and you typically don’t have as many distractions.
  • No Family: Families can definitely be awesome for a patient’s mental health. However, we all know they can mess with your mental health. But, there’s usually no visitors on night shift!
  • Team Mentality: There is a massive team mentality when it comes to night shift. You don’t have a lot of staff on, so you have to trust your other nursing aids, nurses, physicians and respiratory team members.
  • Slower Pace: You usually have more time to work with your patients, or other coworkers to develop skills. Additionally, you might also have more time to learn about certain drugs or EKG rhythms that you might need to brush up on!

5 Tips to Work Night Shift and Stay Healthy

These are our best tips on how to adjust to night shift nursing and still stay healthy! We also have a whole article dedicated to how to stay awake and survive on night shift.

1. Sleep

Sleep is one of the vital things we humans need to prosper. If you don’t get sleep, you won’t be as happy, you’ll be more stressed and you won’t preform as well. As a nurse, we are expected to be well rested and ready-to-go all shift. So, you should be getting at least 7-9 hours of sleep per day.

While it can be hard to sleep during the day, you can try using blackout curtains. Shut off your electronic devices at least 30 minutes before trying to fall asleep. And, you can try using other sleeping aids, such as earplugs!

Also, be sure to keep your sleep/wake cycle decently consistent. It can be difficult on days off to be consistent, but it can help a lot when trying maintain a schedule. Try to stay relatively similar to your sleep schedule and make sure your friends and family understand this!

2. Eat

Staying healthy involves eating as well as getting a good day sleep. Making sure you get your adequate calories per day is essential for your brain’s health and your stress levels. You should always bring a snack on your shift along with using scheduled breaks to stop at the cafeteria or vending machine.

You’d be surprised how much of a difference it’ll make when you have food in your belly. You’ll feel a lot better throughout the shift as well as have a better quality of sleep.

3. Drink Water

Water is another vital part of life. You need to drink water consistently and throughout the night. The Liquid IV Hydration Multiplier can help ensure that you avoid the effects of dehydration and stay as healthy as possible on night shift.

When on a night shift, you should bring a water bottle that shows you how much water you should be drinking. You can also set an alarm on your watch to let you know when you should take a drink of water.

While at home, try to drink before you go to bed as well as when you wake up. In order to avoid the effects of dehydration, you should be drinking at least 8 cups of water per day. It can be hard to drink water when on night shift, but if you focus on remembering, you’ll see the benefits.

4. Take Breaks

When on nursing night shift, you should have scheduled breaks. Even if you don’t, you should at least have a lunch break. After eating and drinking, if you’re allowed, take a nap! You should be able to grab some rest throughout the night if your coworkers are alright with it (be sure to know your hospital’s policies, and set your alarm).

If you can’t nap on your break, then take a walk. Walking around can help your blood flow, relieve stress, and clear your head. You can even catch up on your favorite show, listen to music or just enjoy the silence. Totally up to you how you spend your break, but just make sure to take one!

5. Give It Some Time

Night shift nursing is not easy to adjust to, we all know it. But, just know that it will take time to adjust to whatever shift you work. Some new nurses won’t have any trouble adjusting and some it will take up to a year to adjust. We all have different bodies and it’ll just depend on your own body.

So, don’t give up if you’re struggling. Trust me, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of nursing students and new nurses just like yourself that are adjusting too!

When we think of a full-time job, many of us think of a typical Monday through Friday, 9-5 schedule. But a lot of people don’t have this schedule. Millions of Americans work rotating shifts, evening shifts, and on-call positions. Some common professions with “abnormal” schedules include doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals, police, and firefighters. They work all kinds of odd hours and may never actually have a consistent schedule. It is common for shift workers to sacrifice sleep, and this can have a negative impact on their mental and overall health.

Internal Clock and Sleep

We all have an internal clock in our brains that helps control things like body temperature, hormone levels, hunger, and when we feel alert or sleepy. This is the same clock that helps tell us when it is time to go to sleep and also when to wake up. This clock is called our circadian rhythm, and two things that help “set” this clock are daylight and darkness. Most adults feel the peak of sleepiness from midnight until 7 a.m. Working these odd shifts forces us to fight through the sleepiness to stay awake and work against our circadian rhythms. Then when the shift ends and it is light out, we try to sleep while we are alert.

Night Shift and Sleep Problems

Shift workers may find it hard to sleep in the daylight and often wind up sleep deprived. When they do sleep, they are more easily awakened by sounds or people and have a much lighter sleep. This leaves them waking up not feeling very rested, and it’s even possible for this to lead to insomnia in some cases. This problem may worsen if someone already has a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea or narcolepsy.

Not only are shift workers less rested, but they may get sick more often than someone with a consistent sleep schedule. They may also find it hard to stay alerted at work, and this can lead to poor job performance or work-related accidents. Outside of work, there is the danger of driving home sleepy.

Feeling tired negatively affects attention, concentration, memory, reaction time, and also mood. It can put stress on personal relationships and pretty much any facet of your personal life.

It is unclear if our bodies can fully adapt to these schedules. Some research shows that it may take up to three years or so to adjust to the schedule of shift work, and other research suggests we may never adjust.

Even though there is a chance you may not adjust to working such an abnormal schedule, there are things you can do to make it a little bit easier on yourself. Strategies for coping depend on your personal needs, your job requirements, and what is going on in your home. Each individual’s needs are different, so not every coping strategy applies to everyone.

Tips to Deal with Night Shift

First of all, keep your workplace well-lit so your body tells you to be alert. Have coffee early in your shift to keep you alert, but limit your caffeine consumption later in your shift so it doesn’t prevent you from sleeping when you get home and go to bed. Then go right home; avoid running errands. Turn off your phone or at least put it on silent so your sleep doesn’t get interrupted by calls or text messages. Black out curtains in the bedroom are a big help to block out light. If your brain senses the light, it may keep you alert. Try and stick to the same bedtime and wake up at the same time every day. Also, make sure family or anyone in the house is aware you are sleeping and let you sleep without interruptions.

A nap can do your body some good, too. Taking a 90-minute nap before your shift starts can help you feel rested. Also if you can, on your lunch try and take a short nap of about 20 minutes. This will be just long enough to make you feel rested and alert. Talk to you sleep physician about other options like melatonin and other sleeping pills.

Although your body may never thoroughly adjust, these pointers can help you cope with your crazy schedule.

Author: Kristina Diaz, RRT is a Registered Respiratory Therapist and a health and wellness enthusiast and writer.

Sanja Jelic, MD, is board-certified in sleep medicine, critical care medicine, pulmonary disease, and internal medicine.

Whether it’s working in a hospital setting, as a night manager at a hotel, in a 24-hour convenience store, a late-night diner, or other shift work, countless jobs that may force you to work at night.

These late hours can be hard on the body, and if you don’t adequately adjust your sleep schedule, you may quickly find yourself suffering from insomnia and sleep deprivation.

How to work night shift

Adjusting Your Sleep Schedule

It’s difficult to maintain a non-traditional sleep schedule, but many people are able to do it successfully.

First, it’s key that you minimize your exposure to morning light when you come off your shift. If possible, wear dark sunglasses when leaving work. Try to minimize light exposure until after you have slept.  

As in all situations, it’ll be important to establish a regular sleep schedule and consolidate your sleep periods.

That is, rather than sleeping for a few hours at times scattered throughout the day, try to sleep in one long stretch as you would at night.   Your body will establish a new circadian rhythm, allowing you to be awake during the night and asleep during the day.

Circadian Rhythms

All species of animal, including humans, have circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythm refers to your innate light-dark cycle, which is controlled by your biological clock. The length of a person’s circadian rhythm is typically about 24 hours.  

Your biological clock depends on your genetic make-up. Genes and the proteins that they encode can affect the functioning of your biological clock. More specifically in mammals, like humans, the biological clock lies in areas of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nuclei.

Over time, circadian cycles can adjust to external timing cues. For example, your circadian rhythm can adjust to regularly working night shifts.

Once your circadian rhythm adjusts to the night shift, your body will naturally prepare for sleep when you get off work.

Tips for Better Sleep

If you are having difficulties sleeping long enough to feel rested, there are a few simple guidelines you can follow.

  • Pick a time that you want to go to sleep, and then sleep as much as you can.
  • When you get up, stay up. Don’t allow yourself to go back and sleep more.
  • Go to work or do whatever you have to do until your next scheduled bedtime. Then go to bed at that time.
  • Sleep as long as you can.

Eventually, you will build up enough “sleep debt” that you will be tired enough to sleep for a longer period of time.

In time, your body will become used to sleeping and working during these non-traditional hours.   Exposure to light when you get up and minimizing exposure right before you go to sleep will also help.

In addition, it’s important to follow basic sleep guidelines to improve the quality of your sleep.

Charleston South Carolina

How To Work Night Shift (And Stay Healthy)

Do you need to work nights? This article will talk about how to work night shift and stay healthy. It may be more challenging to keep healthy when a person works at night. However, it is still possible. Read on to find out how exercise can contribute to better health. After reading the article, visit bestellipticalcrosstrainer.com.au to find good-quality exercise equipment.

Working Night Shifts

What happens to the body when a person works night shifts? One of the most common side-effects of working the night shift is a disrupted circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm refers to the internal body clock that regulates when you body feels sleepy.

Working at night can take its toll on a person’s body; it can take up to 48 hours for a person to readjust to normal waking hours. The adjustment time may feel similar to that of jetlag. The circadian rhythm of the person may be disrupted until they get used to sleeping at night again. However, it gets more complicated if the person has to work night shifts for an extended period.

Staying Healthy

A person who works at night have to exert more effort to stay healthy. Here are some tips to help night shift workers stay healthy.

Avoid Alcohol Right Before Bed

Although alcohol can make a person feel sleepy, this effect may wear off after a few hours. Even if the person had already fallen asleep, they may still stand to experience disrupted sleep if they use alcohol to induce their sleep.

Make The Room Conducive For Sleep

How to work night shiftA person’s circadian rhythm can become affected if the body is not well-adjusted for sleep in the daytime. One way to get your circadian rhythm used to sleeping in the night is to replicate night sleeping conditions when it us time to go to bed. Using heavy drapes or curtains that when pulled shut will make the room dark will help your body think that it is nighttime. Also, closing the windows to reduce daytime traffic noises will help replicate night sleeping conditions. Adding the use of an electric fan or air conditioning system to make the air in the room cooler will help you fall asleep more quickly.

Relax An Hour Before Sleeping

It is important to wind down before going to sleep. This is also important even if people have a normal night sleep schedule, they will still be able to benefit from better sleeping patterns if they relax and wind down at least one hour before going to sleep.

Finish Any Exercise At Least One Hour Before Bed

It is crucial to finish doing any type of exercise or work out at least an hour before bed. This relates to relaxing and winding down before going to sleep. The rationale behind this is to allow your body to relax and get rid of any adrenaline that was produced because of the exercise.

Eat A Healthy Diet

Eating a well-balanced diet will help people who are working at night stay healthy. They key to staying healthy while working night shifts is to not only eat the needed fruits, vegetables and protein but to make sure to have your meals on a schedule. Eating your meals using a schedule will help regulate your circadian rhythm and help your body cope with sleeping at night. It will help your sleep schedule if other aspects of your life followed the same schedule as well.

Avoid Stress

It is important to avoid any triggers for the stress. When a person is stressed out, it can affect sleep patterns as well as get in the way of how a person’s body responds to exercise and other healthy activities.

Engage In Fitness Activities

While it is important to stop doing exercise an hour before sleep, staying healthy while working night shifts (or no matter what your shift is) entails getting enough physical activities to stay healthy. Keep moving, especially if the night shift work is sedentary. A spin bike at your living room is a great way of keeping fit. Get the best deals for spin bikes here.

Staying Awake During The Night Shift

One of the most challenging parts of being on the night shift is staying awake. This is especially true for people who are first-timers to working at night. Since the body’s natural circadian rhythm dictates that we should be sleeping during the night, the body will naturally have the urge to sleep or lay down at night.

Most people use coffee, tea or other caffeinated products to help them stay awake for their shift at night. However, this is not a healthy option because it can lead to disrupted sleep during the day. The effects of caffeine in the body can last for hours after the product is consumed. This means that the effects of drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages might still be present when the time comes for the person to go sleep already.

The person should opt for other beverages to have during their “coffee” break. Most companies allocate two 15-minute breaks and one hour-long break for a meal. Instead of coffee or tea, it will do the person well to drink fruit juices or water. Another unhealthy habit people develop is the habit of smoking. Many have the idea that the 15-minute breaks are too short to have anything to eat, so they start smoking. A smoking habit may also develop because of peer pressure, if other co-workers are doing it, they may feel the need to join in.

Get Your Daily Dose Of Vitamins

How to work night shiftKeeping healthy while working on the night shift will require you to take vitamins to ensure that your body is getting the recommended nutrition it needs to stay healthy and keep any infections at bay.

Bad habits like the ones mentioned above should be avoided, no matter what time of the day one has to work. People who work on the night shift have to exert much more effort because it is more challenging to keep healthy with a disrupted circadian rhythm.

Keeping Fit While On The Night Shift

As mentioned early on in this article, it may be difficult, but it is possible. Making sure that you get enough sleep, eat the right food and keep physically active will keep your health from deteriorating.

If you have been on the night shift and think that you are unable to sleep well, eat right or cope with the demands that your shift has on your body, it is a good idea to approach your doctor. Your doctor will be able to give your concrete advice as to how you can keep fit and stay healthy even if you are on the night shift. Your doctor will also be able to take into account any medical conditions that you might have that will get in the way ofr trying to maintain god health while working night shifts.

On the other hand, if you really are having a difficult time adjusting to the night shift, it may be a good idea to approach your boss about transferring you to the dayshift. There are really some people who find it very hard to cope with being on the night shift. In this case, it is better to try and ask your boss for a change in shift rather that compromising the quality of your health.

Updated March 19, 2021

The human body’s sleep-wake circadian rhythm helps us rise with the sun and fall asleep after sunset. Unfortunately, being on a shift work schedule can disrupt this system, making it hard to fall asleep on time and feel refreshed for work the next day.

Approximately 25% of people in the U.S. (1) work evenings, nights, early mornings, or rotating shifts. Although maintaining a regular sleep schedule is more difficult for shift workers, they still need the seven to nine hours of sleep (2) experts recommend adults receive each day.

How Does Shift Work Affect Your Sleep and Overall Health?

Work that takes place between 6 p.m. and 7 a.m. (3) constitutes shift work. People working within this time frame are prone to insufficient sleep and fatigue during waking hours. Most night shift schedules do not match a person’s circadian rhythms, which are the body’s temperature, appetite, and sleep patterns that roughly correspond with each 24-hour period.

Circadian rhythm interruptions commonly occur among shift workers. When work schedules significantly interfere with natural sleeping and waking times, shift work disorder (4) might develop. The signs of this disorder include insomnia and excessive sleepiness during working hours for three months or more.

In addition to experiencing fatigue, shift workers may be more likely to make mistakes or have accidents at work. They are also at greater risk for drowsy driving and car crashes, especially on the way home from work. Given the importance of healthy sleep to productivity and overall health, the following strategies can help shift workers get the rest they need.

Create a Healthy Sleeping Environment

A calm, soothing sleep environment can help promote the sleep shift workers need. Make your sleeping environment as relaxing as possible. Wear your favorite pajamas or use a familiar pillow. Keep your bedroom dark and cool when you’re ready for slumber.

When you must sleep during daylight hours, wearing an eye mask or using black-out shades or blinds might help trick your body into thinking it is nighttime. Try earplugs, a white noise machine, or headphones and a smartphone app to block out distracting sounds. If you keep your smartphone nearby, however, resist the urge to look at its screen.

Nap When You Can

Brief naps can combat sleep deprivation, improve job performance (5), alleviate stress (6), reduce sleepiness, and boost the immune system. Research suggests that nurses who nap during their overnight shifts tend to feel less tired (7) when they drive home.

Ten minutes (8) tends to be the most effective nap duration. If your job allows it, try to take a nap during a break. Because of the increased risk of a car accident on the way home from work, consider taking a 10-minute nap in your car when you get off work. Try drinking coffee right before napping to give the caffeine from the coffee time to kick in and give you a boost.

Plan shorter and longer naps (9) around your work schedule. Naps during work hours should be no more than 15 to 30 minutes. Plan longer naps (about 1.5 hours) before you report for a night shift.

Develop the Best Sleep Schedule for Night Shifts

Consistency is critical when setting a night shift sleep schedule. Set your alarm for the same time each day and be reliable with your bedtimes. Try going to bed as soon as possible after work so that your body does not get tricked into staying up. Follow your sleep schedule, even on your days off.

A bedtime routine like a warm shower before bed might help you relax, and avoid caffeine three to four hours before bed. Alcohol might help you fall asleep initially, but it will hinder healthy slumber and perhaps wake you up early.

Plan Sleep Techniques for Rotating Shifts

Even if your shifts rotate, you can still train your body for a graveyard sleep schedule. Before your next night shift, set your alarm so that you wake up as close to the start of your workday as possible. Another option is to nap for a few hours when you get home from a night shift, and plan a longer nap so that you wake up right before work the next evening.

Use Strategies While You’re Awake

As a shift worker, there are many actions you can take while awake to help reinforce the sleep-wake schedule you desire. Try these strategies:

  • Exercise during off-hours, which can enhance sleep health.
  • If possible, drink small amounts of caffeine every one to two hours during your shift to stay alert.
  • Climb stairs or engage in other short bursts of activity to heighten alertness.
  • Use increased lighting in your workspace to simulate daytime, or talk to your supervisor about this making this arrangement.
  • When you leave work, wear sunglasses to avoid sunlight exposure that could interfere with falling asleep when you get home.
  • If your shift is early in the morning, turn on a bright light and do jumping jacks or other activity when you awaken.

There is no single best sleep schedule or approach to sleep that works for all shift workers. It’s best to try different strategies until you find one that works for you.

1 of 9

So You Got No Sleep.

Staying up all night doesn’t leave anyone feeling refreshed, revitalized, and ready to go. (Anyone who’s pulled an all-nighter knows the next day can leave you feeling like a zombie chasing a caffeine drip.) But for many people—doctors, bartenders, call attendants, or police officers who work night shifts—working all night is a day-to-day reality.

The problem is, shift work doesn’t just leave us zonked. The World Health Organization considers it a probable carcinogen—and research suggests that if you spend your nights wide awake, you’re more likely to suffer not just from certain kinds of cancer but also diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and cognitive impairment. (In fact, it could be the culprit behind your recent weight gain.)

That’s why many overnight workers fight back harder, mastering the art of maintaining a healthy diet, an exercise schedule, and a sleep routine despite less-than-ideal circumstances. So next time you find yourself lacking serious Zzzs, consider their tips to find energy and make it through the day like a healthy human.

1 of 9

2 of 9

Heat Things Up

Coffee has its perks, but April Wachtel, a mixologist and founder/CEO of Swig + Swallow, a cocktail batching and delivery service says that her ideal trick for alertness involves another kind of hot liquid: jumping in the shower first thing in the morning. Brittney, 27, an administrator at a 24/7 call and support center agrees, saying that a hot shower is usually enough to provide a short burst of (much-needed) energy.

2 of 9

3 of 9

Caffeinate Wisely

The importance of a good cup of joe goes beyond caffeine: “Coffee is almost always the first thing I reach for in the mornings,” says Wachtel. “I love the ritual as much as the energy.” She’s onto something: Getting your body used to certain habits at certain times can help maintain regularity—and energy. (Try these 5 Easy Ways to Start Your Day Stress-Free too.)

And while we all know the powers of caffeine, Deborah Rathz, M.D., Ph.D., a medical ICU and ER physician at the Cleveland Clinic, says that timing matters. “My day begins with a mug of dark roast coffee, whether I start at 7 a.m. or 11 p.m.” Feel yourself crashing midday? Try Rahtz’s trick and sip something like coconut chai tea—which has less caffeine than coffee. Then skip it later in the day—at least six or so hours before you hit the sack—so that it doesn’t mess with your next night’s sleep.

If you need something, Wachtel finds that a fresh juice (she makes hers with kale, apple, celery, cucumber, ginger, and lemon) rejuvenates just as much as caffeine.

3 of 9

4 of 9

Work Out In the Morning

It’s likely the last thing you want to do after a night without sleep: hit the pavement or sweat it out in the gym. But Chelsea Caracciolo, a clinical educator at McLean Hospital in Boston, MA, says that exercise is her first move after an overnight shift. “In the summer, it’s a lot easier because the sun is usually too bright to allow me to fall asleep,” she says. “But I also find that working out in the morning after my shift allows for me to sleep a little bit longer.”

What are the best ways to sweat? Caracciolo opts for high-intensity cardio, like boxing or cycling. “It instantly jolts me awake, unlike most meditative, restful exercises like yoga.” (More of a night owl? You can

become a morning exerciser!)

4 of 9

5 of 9

Look for Good-for-You Food

It stinks: Fast food always looks better on the days that we’re sleep-deprived. But reaching for it will only make you feel worse. That’s why Blaise, a 29-year-old administrator at a 24/7 call center, stresses the importance of maintaining a healthy diet. “I can’t stress that enough—lots of fruits and veggies,” he says. “It’s easy to grab a fast meal if you are tired, but I’ve found that that ends up draining my energy even more.”

In fact, after her overnight shifts, Avani Desai, M.D., an emergency medicine doctor at Loyola University Health System usually heads to the grocery store for food—so that she knows there will be a good selection of fruits and vegetables. If you don’t have time for that, making sure the fridge is stocked and that you have snacks on hand can be the difference between an energy-sapping bacon, egg, and cheese and fueling meals and snacks all day long. (Try these freezer meals you can warm up for breakfast.)

After all, your best bet is to avoid large meals that may send you into a food coma, says Rathz. For energy, she opts for small, frequent meals and snacks that are high in protein.

Nurse Practitioner Career Advice Nurse Practitioner Lifestyle

How to work night shift

Last night my husband and I went to dinner with friends which happened to be the same day I was transition back to reality from night shift mode. I felt like my brain was on delay. I was having an out of body experience. Chatting with our friends required a forced cognitive effort brought on by my intense fatigue. Not to mention my appetite was all off as I had spent the night snacking in order to stay awake at work. If you’re a night-shifter I’m sure you know the feeling.

While part of coping with working the night shift is to learn to live tired, there are a few tactics I’ve tried over the years that seem to help. Here’s what (honestly) works for me.

1. Medicate yourself

If you transition from days to nights every week, medication may not be the healthiest option for you. But, being more of an every other week night-shifter, I often turn to drugs to facilitate my circadian transition. An Ambien induced sleep the afternoon before beginning a string of night shifts is irreplaceable. If my schedule doesn’t allow for seven plus hours of afternoon shut-eye, I opt for Benadryl which allows me to sleep about four hours without feeling hung over.

Caveat. If you are trying sleeping medications for the first time, make sure to do a test run when you don’t actually have to show up for work afterward. Everyone reacts to these medications differently and you don’t want to arrive at work feeling drugged!

Are You Ready to Thrive?

2. Plan ahead

Look at your schedule for the week ahead of time and plan your sleep pattern accordingly. The day of your first night shift, leave the afternoon free of other obligations so you have time to nap. Don’t plan activities the morning after you get off of a night shift so you can play catch up. You may even consider going to bed later and later and sleeping in as the week progresses to prepare for the upcoming night shift transition.

I find I’m (obviously) not productive the day following pulling a night or two in the ER, so I schedule easy, mindless activities for my first day off work. Think afternoon grocery store run. I plan more mind intensive activities for days when I am better rested.

3. Cover your eyes

When I’m trying to sleep during the day, any light making its way to my eyelids causes me to toss and turn. I lay in my bed, exhausted, but unable to fall asleep. It’s torture. So, I wear an eye mask. While my mask often falls off mid nap, it at least allows me to fall asleep, often the most difficult step after getting off work.

While I have never tried them myself, blue blocking glasses can be worn when leaving the hospital preventing certain wavelengths of light from reaching your eyes. This keeps your circadian clock from resetting so the sunlight doesn’t wake you up as you make the commute home.

4. Eliminate all light sources in your bedroom (without sacrificing style)

It goes without saying that keeping your room as dark as possible will help you get the best sleep during the day. My problem with this? I couldn’t find any blackout curtains that suited my decorative style. To solve this problem, I installed a double curtain rod hanging a beige blackout window panel in the back against my bedroom window and my original, more chic window panels in front. So, when I walk in my bedroom rather than unsightly blackout curtains, I see only my more decorative window coverings.

5. Consider alternative sleeping locations

Your bedroom might not be the best place in your home for you to catch some shut-eye after the night shift. With a comfy couch, cot, or futon, nearly any area of your house can be transformed into a nap pad. A family member of mine is an emergency physician and sleeps on a cot in his dark, quiet, walk-in closet post night shift. The basement also serves as somewhat of a cave where you can catch a few zzz’s light-free.

6. Sleeping immediately after your shift vs. taking time to decompress

After the night shift, my preferred method of getting to sleep is to do so immediately. Typically, I shove a few handfuls of whatever junk food is laying around into my mouth (fatigue crushes any semblance of self control I might have) and head straight to bed. At most, I utter a few words to my husband beforehand (he’s very understanding!). For me, heading straight to bed prevents me from getting caught up with doing dishes, laundry, answering emails, and thinking about my to do list.

Some of my colleagues take the opposite approach. They pull into the driveway around 6 am, pour themselves a beer and flick on the TV. Spending an hour or so decompressing helps them forget about the stress of the long night they just left behind. Taking a few minutes to relax allows them to fall asleep more easily. Try each approach to find out what works best for you.

7. Get active

It seems counterintuitive, but getting a little exercise after your nap helps you feel less tired. Exercise wakes up your mind and your body. Being outdoors in natural light helps get your body’s clock back in order. After I wake from my post night shift slumber, I always go for a jog. The first few steps are difficult but as I continue I begin to feel my mind and body come around.

8. Keep the noise level down

Every night shifter dreads the summertime. Inevitably, untimely landscapers arrive on your neighbor’s property in the middle of your nap ruining whatever REM cycle you were experiencing. If your bedroom faces a potentially noisy area of the house or outdoors, sleep elsewhere. You may even consider wearing ear plugs. A sound machine set to white noise is also quite effective in preventing bumps, thuds, and barking dogs from interrupting your much needed sleep.

9. Manage your moods

Let’s be honest. Even if you’re the best napper in the world, if you work the night shift you’re going to feel sleep deprived on occasion. Sleep deprivation is prone to make you moody, cranky, and difficult to live with. Learn to manage your moods. If you can diffuse potentially frustrating situations in your head by reminding yourself things will look better after a full night’s sleep, you can prevent (most) of those fatigue driven fights and frustrations.

Working the night shift isn’t easy but it does get better with time. Your body adjusts and you develop methods to cope with sleeping less than the norm.

How do you cope with night shift fatigue?

Further Reading on ThriveAP

As I was headed up to my office this afternoon, I opened the Notes app…

Pulling all-nighters, at work anyway, isn’t really the key to a solid relationship with your…

For some reason it seems my shifts in the emergency department lately have consisted primarily…

How to work night shift

Working overnight shifts is a big change for many nurses, but it’s also extremely common. With the 24-hour demands of the bustling, modern health care system, there’s a good chance you’ll have to work the night shift at some point in your career, especially when you’re starting out. But don’t fret! There are many ways to ensure that the transition from day to night goes as smoothly as possible.

All nurses need to be on their A-game with technical medical skills and emotional resilience no matter what time of day they’re working. Night shift nurses have to shoulder even more burdens because they often work mostly or entirely alone for their shift. While there’s no one “right” way to adapt to the night shift, there are several common mistakes that you’ll want to avoid to build good habits.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Switching to the Night Shift

Going against your circadian rhythm is no small task. However, resorting to quick fixes will only make your shifts more difficult in the long run. Avoid these five common mistakes and you’ll adapt to the swing of a night shift quickly.

1. Not getting enough rest before starting a shift.

As a nurse, it’s important to always be sharp on the job. The staff at Gurwin Jewish Nursing and Rehabilitation Center emphasize that not getting enough rest is the number one mistake that new night shift workers make, and it’s one of the most dangerous. Since shifts are often upwards of eight hours long, there’s no safe way to “power through” on too little sleep. This goes for both on-shift work and driving when sleep-deprived.

How to Avoid It:

  • Install blackout curtains where you sleep and get a fan or white noise generator.
  • Turn off your phone, get a “Do Not Disturb” sign, and inform loved ones of your schedule.
  • Staying up for a few hours to relax and take care of yourself may be easier for some nurses than going straight to bed at the end of a shift. You’ll figure out what works for you with time, so don’t be afraid to experiment.
  • Take proper care of your legs and feet while on your shift, so you won’t be troubled by pain or soreness when you’re trying to sleep.
  • Light soothing candles and practice stretches to relax yourself before bed.

2. Leaning on sugary foods, alcohol, or caffeine instead of proper nutrition.

It can be tempting to snack on chocolate or chug coffee to keep yourself going through your night shift. Keep in mind that, if consumed in excess, coffee can lead to jitters at first, followed by a crash. You’ll be far better off if you instead focus on getting more sleep.

How to Avoid It:

  • Plan and pack your meals ahead of time to avoid relying on vending machines.
  • Schedule your heavy meals so they won’t interfere with sleep.

3. Letting your personal life fall into disorder.

Sometimes it’s hard to keep your personal life in order while working the night shift. Errands, social gatherings, and childcare all battle for your attention when you’re not at work. This reduces your ability to get good sleep and, in turn, to focus at work.

How to Avoid It:

  • Yoga and meditation help you relax and leave work behind so you can be present when you’re engaging with family or friends.
  • Establish a schedule for sleep, chores, and activities. This will reduce the stress of missing out on things.
  • Plan gatherings ahead of time with friends and family to ensure you can make it to fun gatherings.

4. Not asking for help or feeling like you have to “do it all.”

Yes, there are fewer resources available overnight at the hospital. This can lead to superhero-esque thinking, where you refuse or even genuinely forget to ask for help. Being honest about needing a hand is better than dropping the ball because you’re juggling while tired.

How to Avoid It:

  • Get to know the others who work nights so you can trade favors.
  • Get to know the resources available to you during your shift.
  • Ensure that your roommates or family are sharing the load with you at home.
  • Choose sleep over chores when possible at home. Others can help you with chores, but they can’t sleep for you!

5. Missing out on workplace bonding, training, or resources due to night shifts.

It’s easy to feel forgotten when working the night shift. Try not to miss out on opportunities for bonding, continuing education, or extra support because of your schedule. It can be hard to make time or schedule changes for these opportunities, but they’re integral to your career development down the line.

How to Avoid It:

  • Check announcement boards and learn about opportunities available at your workplace.
  • Make it known to your boss and coworkers that you’re interested in additional training, support, resources or team bonding even if you work the night shift.
  • Ask if there are online resources available for any opportunities that you simply cannot attend.

Your job as a nurse is important. Don’t let working the night shift get in the way of providing the best care possible to your patients and yourself. Getting enough sleep is integral to your job performance and personal health, but that’s not always enough. You also need to make sure you’re practicing good self-care and focusing on your health along the way. With these great tips, you’ll adapt to the night shift in no time!