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A Nurse’s Night Shift Survival Guide

A drowsy nurse after a night shift

Saying that a nurse’s job is both critical and difficult is an understatement. Nurses provide critical care to patients of all ages and needs. Without them, our medical system would collapse. 

With so many responsibilities, nurses have to stay sharp. Maintaining your ACLS, PALS, and BLS certifications are a given, but what about the times when it is physically strenuous to perform at your best, like during a night shift? 

Use these tips to help you learn how to survive a night shift as a nurse. 

Help Your Body Adjust to Your Night Shift Schedule

Our bodies are programmed to sleep at night and be awake during the day. When you start taking night shifts, remember that you are asking your body to go against years of learned behavior. It takes time to reset your cycle. 

Try to shift the schedule of your sleep and your meals at least 24 hours before your shift begins. Stay up late, into the early hours of the morning, the night before your shift and eat a few hours before you go to bed — think dinner at midnight instead of at 6 pm. This will help your body sleep for a good portion of the day before your night shift begins. If you wake up in the late morning, try to take another nap before you report to the hospital. 

Create an environment that is conducive to restorative sleep. Use blackout blinds or curtains to block out the sunlight. Use earplugs or a white noise machine to block out the noises of the day. 

It can also be helpful to get in some solid physical activity the day before your shift. This will release endorphins and other hormones that will help you stay alert and happy while you work. 

Eat Well While You Work

What you eat and drink is the fuel that will help you get through the night. You want to choose healthy foods that will give you energy and not cause you to crash half-way through your shift. Rather than eat a large meal before your shift and another large meal during your break, try to eat frequent snacks. 

Look for snacks made from whole foods. The best offer high-protein content, low-fat content, and complex carbohydrates. Avoid refined sugars, opting instead for fresh or dried fruits. Nuts, vegetables, and salads with lean grilled meats are also a great option. 

Shift workers are more prone to sleep disorders, chronic disease, inflammation, and cardiovascular disease than the general population, but there are many ways maintaining a healthy diet and exercise can combat these negative health effects. For diet strategies to improve your overall health, you may enjoy reading “Dietary Supplements Proven to Help Shift Workers Have More Energy and Get Better Sleep,” “Dietary Strategies for Shift Workers to Boost Energy and Reduce the Risk of Chronic Disease,” or “Dietary Strategies for Shift Workers That Decrease Inflammation and Improve Cardiovascular Health.”

While caffeine can help you remain alert, too much can have negative side effects on your concentration and performance. It can also be helpful to avoid coffee or other caffeinated beverages during the second half of your shift because it could make it difficult to sleep once you return home. Instead, bring your own water bottle, and stay hydrated. 

Become Part of a Team

If you’re wondering how to survive a night shift, the best answer is to bond with your co-workers. You’re all in this together, and work will be much more enjoyable if you can work well together and have a good time. 

Help each other stay busy and focused. Look out for each other’s needs. Share your healthy snacks and the tips and tricks that are helping you make the most of your night shift. Ask your co-workers for their advice in return. For more tips, or for an easy way to renew critical certifications online, explore more of our free resources.