What’s the secret to working nights? Unfortunately, there’s no one trick, as it’s not a one size fits all scenario. As a night shift nurse, you’re going to have to take the time to get to know your sleep patterns so you can maximize your productivity and become the night owl you’ve always dreamt of!
In all seriousness - whether you prefer working nights or you dread sleeping during the day when everyone else is active - developing a routine and figuring out what you like will help you stay positive and make sure you’re still utilizing the time you have off.
The following tips were taken from suggestions from our nurse networking group:
Depending on where you’re working, it’s likely that most of your patients will be sleeping during your night shift. Of course - there are exceptions to this - like if you work in the ER or the NICU (as babies don’t care what time it is - when they’re ready they’re ready)! However, if you do find yourself in a position where the nights are going to be much quieter than the day make sure you come up with a plan to keep yourself busy. How will you use your time when things get slower?
You might want to utilize this time by finishing up documentation/notes, stocking or even preparing items that would be helpful for the day staff - or study something (or re-study something if you are currently working with a patient and want to brush up on their treatment plan). Whatever you decide to do - make sure it’s not too boring, if brushing up on your studies will put you to sleep - go explore the supply room - you’re bound to find all kinds of things you haven’t learned about yet!
Another idea is to use a wearable (like a fitbit or apple watch) to track your steps - this will help make sure you’re moving enough and it will encourage you to get up if you’ve spent too much time sitting down. Staying busy is key to time going by fast and staying awake.
A lot of nurses swear by coffee for their nursing night shifts. That being said, if you’re going to be having coffee it’s equally as important to know when enough is enough and not to solely rely on it to keep you awake - as it will become a crutch and you’ll likely crash.
If you are a coffee drinker - or will be relying on it during your night shifts - it’s a good idea to choose a point in your shift to stop drinking it. For example, if your shift starts at 7p.m and ends at 7 a.m then aim to stop drinking coffee at around 3:00am - this will give you enough time to wind down and actually feel sleepy by the time you get home.
Basically - if you’re going to be using coffee during your nurse night shifts just make sure to find your coffee cut-off time.
Take the time to figure out what makes you sleepy and what you’ll need to do to create a relaxing environment to sleep when everyone else is awake.
Here are our top suggestions for creating a comfortable atmosphere:
Getting fresh air (especially if you’re working long shifts) will do a lot to help you feel like you’re not wasting your days and still seeing daylight. Before and after your shift try to get outside - even if it’s a short walk. Being in the fresh air can actually make you happier which will help if you’re not so stoked on working nights.
Night Shift Nursing requires energy - energy not to fall asleep and energy to think clearly and be alert in case of emergencies. So while you should definitely eat a hearty meal before going in - try and keep it lighter during your shift. Many night shift nurses from our networking group suggest bringing a lunch with lots of protein (and tons of healthy snacks like nuts, veggies and home-made popcorn). And drinking water from a water bottle that measures how much you’re drinking (so you make sure you finish it throughout your shift).
Another nurse suggested starting your shift off with a pre-workout energy drink and then when it’s gone filling it up with regular water and making sure to finish it before the end of your shift. This helps get you through the hardest hours (3:00am - 4:00am).
Lastly, before you go to bed eat something small so you don’t wake up starving (see point 10 for a fun suggestion)!
Set an alarm for the ideal time that you’d like to wake up and start doing things before you need to head back into your nursing night shift. By setting an alarm you can make sure you still get some sort of ‘day’ in.
Whether it’s just enough time to go for a walk and cook dinner or if it’s to get in a workout and spend some time with your family - you're routine will depend largely on who you live with and your lifestyle. It’s important to make sure you’re in some sort of routine so your body gets into a rhythm and you’re alert when you need to be alert and sleepy when it’s time to sleep.
Studies show that night shift nurses (and other night shift workers) who have a nighttime and daytime routine are better at their jobs, less cranky, more alert AND sleep longer without any interruptions.
If you’re new to night shift nursing then the first thing you should do is ask your colleagues and nursing friends who have experience working nights. Since each person ends up creating their own hacks and routines it’s best to ask around and then test out what works best for you. Plus - trying different routines can be kind of fun! When asking other nurses for advice - don’t forget to ask what was (or is) the best thing about night shift nursing so you can get a little bit more excited. Here’s 5 reasons why we think nurse night shift can be great:
Let’s face it - everyone is different - so whether you’re a night owl or an early-riser, spending the time to figure out when you’re at your best will help you better plan for your nursing night shift. Only you know how much sleep you need - some people only need 6-7 hours while others lean more towards 8-9. Whatever makes you feel your best - aim to get it every day.
Besides just the hours of sleep, you’ll also need to figure out your routine. Can you come home right away and sleep? Or would you prefer to wait until later in the day - maybe when other family members are working - to get some shut-eye?
If you’re new to night shift nursing, look at your routine on a normal shift and try to mimic it as closely as possible. Most nurses spend the first month of night shifts trying to figure out what they like best and what works for them and then start zeroing in on creating the perfect routine.
If you’re not going to be moving around all the time, and you discover you’re not a night owl, then some nurses in our networking group suggested sleeping during your break. Even if you don’t actually fall asleep - closing your eyes and not moving (i.e. resting) helps recharge the brain.
Resting can also improve your mood, increase alertness, reduce stress and make you more productive afterwards. Therefore, 10-15 minutes of stillness can really go a long way in improving your physical and mental states during your nursing night shift.
While we don’t know if this is a myth or fact, some nurses swear that they fall asleep quickly if they eat an apple after their night shift. Research suggests that because of the high amount of vitamin C, vitamin B6 and potassium, that eating an apple can indeed help you sleep.
Since eating an apple a day is already a great benefit (as it keeps the doctor away) and protects you against many diseases (like asthma, lung disease, and several cancers), there’s really no reason this nursing night shift hack shouldn’t be tried - you’ve got nothing to lose!
If you’re a night shift nurse then play around with your routine until you find the most beneficial one for yourself. A lot of nurses swear by creating a routine that includes a bedtime/wake-up schedule, exercise, relax-time (TV, readings, etc.) and meal prep. For some inspiration here are our favourite videos on night shift nursing routines:
“Here is a typical 24 hour time span in my normal night shift routine. I know it's not massively exciting - but this is my typical 24-hour span.”
“Here is my usual Night Shift Nurse routine working two 12.5 Hour night Shifts at the hospital in the PICU and Emergency Department, and how I get ready for them and sleep in-between! :)
I also show you my food for night shift, what I eat and when and my schedule to prepare for them (it's super last minute in this vlog hehe)”
“Night Shift Nurse Routine (Getting Ready for a 12 hour shift, 7PM to 7AM!!)
There’s not one good hack/solution that works for everyone. After a few nights, you’ll see what works best for you but don’t expect to master it right away - you won’t figure out the perfect night shift regime until you’ve worked nights consequently for a while. Instead play around with your schedules, routines and take the time to figure out what’s easiest for you.
Let us know your favourite night shift hack >> Nurse Avenue Networking Group.