10 Survival Tips for the Night Shift Nurse

Working the night shift as a nurse can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be. Learn tips and tricks to work, sleep, and be better at the night shift.

Last updated: September 23, 2023

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Reality is, night shift sucks and it kills you slowly. That’s a fact

But, night shift does have its perks too. We will get into that later.

First, we give you 10 Quick Tips for the Night Shift Nurse, followed by an overview of each tip to help you prepare for and survive your next nursing night shift. 

Surviving the Night Shift is Easy-ish

Unless you are one of the rare few, chances are you will feel like junk before, during, and after your night shifts. 

That said, you do get used to it and finding what works for you is easy it just takes some trial and error.

Once you find the right night shift routine for your body things will start to even out and you will feel, well… ok. 

Here are a few easy things you can do manage the night shift better and feel better both during your shift and on your days off. 

10 Survival Tips for the Night Shift Nurse

Below are 10 practical tips for the night shift nurse. 

Keep reading after the infographic for more detail about each night shift survival tip.

  1. Get your sleep routine dialed
  2. Take naps when available 
  3. Exercise before shift
  4. Minimize caffeine after midnight 
  5. Wear layers 
  6. Blue light sunglasses 
  7. Organize your care 
  8. Oral hygiene 
  9. Meal prep 
  10. Bring a book

Get your sleep routine dialed

Getting a good sleep post night shift is key to your recovery. 

Most people don’t think about it, but creating a sleep routine on your days off helps you to sleep better in-between your working night shifts. 

The most important sleep is right after your last night shift. Be careful not to stay up too long into the day or stay up late in the night. 

Ask around, what do other nurses do for their post night shift sleep routines.

Experiment to find what works for you. The key takeaway, however, is that you need a routine, and you need to stick to it.  

If you can sleep better on your days off you will sleep better in between night shifts. Additionally, after a hectic night or a bad post shift sleep, having a reservoir or good sleep behind you will allow you to bounce back quicker than without. 

Take Naps When Available

Some nursing units get nap breaks on the night shift and some don’t — that’s just nursing. 

If night naps are important to you, find out what units take naps before choosing a home unit. 

For the lucky few, when you have the opportunity, take it. Whether it’s 10 minutes of just closing your eyes or a full on snore fest, naps help refresh your mind while helping to mitigate the effects of continual missed sleep. 

Some nurses find short naps make them feel more groggy or nauseous on night shift. For these nurses, even a few moments of complete relaxation can be a game changer. 

Find a comfortable space, put in some quality earplugs or noise cancelling headphones, close your eyes and zone out for 5-10 minutes. Give your body and mind a chance to release tension and sit just on the cusp of sleep. 

This quick reset can be helpful on shifts where you don’t want to or don’t have time to nap but need a refresher. 

Exercise Before Shift

There are always those manic nurses who, after night shift, get busy. They go to the gym or run a marathon then take their kids to school. 

Unless you have to be up for the day, exercising after night shift can disturb your sleep. 

Most nurses find it more beneficial to exercise before night shift. This routine mimics a natural rhythm more closely than being physically active post shift. Exercising before shift keeps you energized through that midnight lull. Then, when morning comes, your body will be primed for rest.

Minimize Caffeine After Midnight

For me, one of the best parts of night shift is being able to drink coffee in the afternoon. 

But don’t be tempted to overdo it too late into your shift. 

As a rule of thumb, avoiding any caffeine after midnight greatly improves the quality of your post night shift sleep. 

Of course, if you need that 5am cup of coffee to make it home safely or get your kids set up for the day, by all means have it. Just keep in mind, even if you do sleep, caffeine does affect the quality of your sleep. 

Wear Layers

Layers keep you warm while allowing the flexibility to add or remove them if you are entering an isolation room or similar situation. 

Most hospitals get cold at night. In addition, during a normal sleep cycle your core body temperature will drop by one or two degrees. When we are awake at night and exposed to light our body’s thermoregulation becomes unpredictable. 

You can be cold one minute then hot the next. In general, however, most nurses find they get cold at night. 

For this reason, it’s best to dress in layers. People who get cold easily might wear a long sleeve under their scrubs with a zip up hoodie over the top. 

Blue Light Sunglasses

Blue light blocking glasses look a little goofy but people swear by them. 

Blue light is similar in wavelength to sunlight. Our bodies are designed to feel more awake when exposed to sunlight (blue light). So, when we are in front of blue light emitting screens or under blue light emitting lights our bodies are tricked into thinking it is day – time to stay awake.

When you block blue light at night your body is better able to stick to a natural day-night sleep-wake cycle. This makes it easier to sleep post night shift and promotes higher quality post shift sleep. 

Yellow tinted lenses block out blue light. On the opposite end of the color spectrum from blue light, yellow is effective at blocking a majority of blue light. 

Nurses who wear glasses can get lenses with blue light blocking. Alternatively, a cheap pair of plastic yellow or orange glasses from amazon or similar will do the trick. 

Organize Your Care

For both your patient’s benefit and your own, it’s recommended to organize or bundle your care during night shift. 

Patients need to get sleep and rest. Sleeping patients usually means less confusion and more progress. 

Avoid constantly interacting with your patient or waking them up over and over for a med or labs or vitals. 

Where reasonable, bundle nursing interventions so you are stimulating your patients as little as possible. 

For example, leave the blood pressure cuff attached and set it to auto so you don’t have to wake them up for vitals. 

Gather and administer your meds at the same times as your assessments. 

Encourage them to void when giving hs meds – this gives you a chance to do a full assessment and prepare the room to avoid unnecessarily waking patients throughout the night. 

Whenever possible, situate the room and the patient in a way you can pop in during the night to assess their safety without disturbing them. 

Oral Hygiene

Don’t be that nurse no-one wants to get morning report from. 

Sure, halitosis affects us all sometimes. The night shift, however, is an ideal breeding ground for this offensive oral intruder. 

Stress, dehydration, sleep deprivation, lack of nutrition, and of course coffee, all contribute to halitosis. 

If possible on your unit, get a travel tooth brush setup and keep it at work with your name on it. That way you can get a quick brush in after your break or before morning report. 

At the least, have a pack of gum or mints in your bag for emergencies. 

Meal Prep

Having your meals prepped and ready saves time to help you get the most sleep possible after and between shifts. 

This also reduces the amount of junky hospital food you buy. It sounds like common sense, but buying take out and other low quality foods will only make your night shift hangover worse. 

Try to prep before your rotation starts and be sure to prepare lots of small, healthy, easily portable snacks like ziplocks full of carrots and celery or a healthy trail mix. 

Bring a Book

While it can be crazy busy on the night shift there will be times where you find yourself bored and nodding off at the nurse’s station. 

Bring a book or a side hustle to work on. A calm night shift is a great opportunity to work without the interruptions of daily life. 

Summary

The night shift isn’t for everyone. Chances are, however, that you will find yourself working the night shift at some point in your nursing career. 

Use these 10 survival tips for the night shift nurse to help make your next night shift the best one yet. 

Whether you are a seasoned nurse or newbie, the tips above can help you work better and recover better from the night shift. 

Check out our full guide to working the night shift to find more tips, insights, and suggestions from other nurses. 


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