13 Essential Career Tips for Nurses on Night Shift

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 11 December 2022

Published 8 November 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Being a nurse may involve night shifts that require you to complete your nurse hours while most people sleep. Following tips for nurses on night shift can help you stay alert and be productive. These tips can help you whether you have full-time nursing hours at night or your nursing shift times vary. In this article, we offer tips that can help night shift nurses during their shifts and when they're at home.

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8 tips for nurses on night shift

Here are eight tips for nurses on night shift that can help you:

1. Use public transport or a driver

Driving while you're tired after a nursing night shift can put you, other road users and pedestrians at risk. Taking public transport can be a good way to make sure you travel safely. You could also ask someone you live with to drive you to and from the health facility.

2. Dress for comfort

Consider dressing comfortably on your night shifts. Many nurses choose scrubs rather than dress uniforms for night shifts, as they often only interact with patients and one another. You can pair your clothes with your most comfortable shoes. There are generally fewer rostered nurses on night shifts, which means you may spend a lot of time on your feet. Many people's eyes become sensitive and irritated at night, so choose glasses instead of contact lenses to reduce the impact.

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3. Eat nutritious meals and snacks

Nutritious foods can fill you up and provide you with energy. You may feel better if you take time for a healthy dish during your meal break. Bringing leftovers from home or a nutritious microwave meal are great options that take little preparation. You may keep some healthy snacks in your pockets or locker for between-meal cravings. Some nuts, a piece of fruit or a protein bar may help you make it through to the end of your shift.

4. Stay hydrated

Proper hydration can help you stay awake and ward off headaches. Try to drink water regularly during your shift. Adding a few slices of lime, lemon or cucumber are great ways to make water more interesting.

5. Limit caffeine consumption

Some night-duty nurses reach for caffeinated beverages to stay awake. While caffeine can perk you up, too much may upset your stomach. Caffeine also stays in your system for a long time, so it may impact your ability to fall asleep and recover from your shift. It can also dehydrate your system. Consider limiting your intake to help you feel better and sleep better after your shift

6. Keep busy

When productivity drops it's easy for fatigue to start setting in, so try to keep busy. Prepare a mental to-do list or write your tasks down so you stay on track. Your list can help you stay organised and productive throughout your shift. If you mark off every item during your shift, you may ask your nurse manager for more duties.

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7. Stay active

Staying active during your shift may help you stay alert and ward off sleepiness. Walking around the health facility during meal breaks and doing simple stretches between patients are good ways to keep your blood pumping. If the hospital has an on-site gym, you may even be able to fit in a quick workout during your break.

8. Be social

Being social with the other nurses and doctors can make your night duty shifts more fun. Try to take time to get to know the people in your department during your breaks. Greeting your colleagues with a smile when you start your shift and saying goodbye to them before you leave in the morning may help you build connections. When you build good relationships with your colleagues, communicating and getting the support you need becomes easier.

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5 tips for night shift nurses at home

Here are 5 tips that can help you when you're away from the hospital or medical centre:

1. Get regular quality sleep

Try to prioritise getting the same regular sleep that others do during your night shifts. That means spending between seven to nine hours in bed in each 24-hour period. Sleeping is essential for physical and mental wellbeing. It may help you feel alert and improve your memory and critical thinking skills. When you are well-rested, focusing and maintaining a pleasant bedside manner may be easier. Many night duty nurses perform best when they take a short 20- or 30-minute nap a few hours before work, then get a block of sleep once they arrive home.

You may create a good sleeping environment by making the room dark and turning off your electronic devices. You might like to install block-out blinds or use a sleep mask to block out any daylight. Doing something relaxing before going to bed, such as reading or taking a bath, may help you unwind after your shift and prepare your body for sleep. Some nurses also find debriefing with a partner or friend helps them put their shifts behind them so they can transition to sleep.

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2. Exercise regularly

It can be tempting to spend time away from the health facility unwinding, but making time for regular exercise is good for your physical and mental wellbeing. Building up your physical strength and endurance through exercise can also help you get through your night duty shifts.

Consider your fitness level and interests when planning your exercise program. Gyms have a great range of equipment and classes. Some health facilities also have fitness programs for their employees. You could also join a boot camp or a class for a fun activity such as roller skating or dancing. Regular walks or bike rides around your local area can also help you stay fit. You may ask a friend to exercise with you so you can stay accountable to one another and enjoy the social time.

3. Practise meal prep for easy, healthy dishes

Finding the time or motivation to prepare healthy dishes at home can be challenging for night shift nurses. Doing some meal prep on your days off can be a great way to save time when you're back at work. It may also save you money by reducing food waste and helping you resist ordering takeaways.

People meal prep in several different ways, so experiment to see what works best for you. Some people plan their weekly meals and shop for the ingredients so they have everything they need on hand. Some people physically prepare whole dishes or ingredients so they can easily reheat or assemble meals when they need them. You might prepare a big batch of pasta sauce or soup, for example, then portion it into individual servings for the fridge or freezer. You could also cut up some vegetables or meats so they're ready to use in a stir-fry or casserole later.

4. Eat dinner late

Eating a late dinner around 8 pm gives your body an energy boost that makes staying up for night duty easier. Consider light meals that are rich in nutrients such as seafood and lean meat dishes paired with vegetables. These healthy dishes may help you feel better during your shift than carb-heavy dishes that may make you feel sluggish or upset your stomach.

Shifting your dinner time routine can be challenging at first. A healthy afternoon snack can help you feel satisfied until your late dinner time. A piece of fruit or a handful of nuts are good nutritious snack options.

5. Monitor your own health

When you focus on the health of others, it can be easy to forget about your own wellbeing. Being a night duty nurse can put you at higher risk of a range of physical health issues including weight gain, diabetes and high blood pressure. Some night-duty nurses also face mental health issues such as insomnia and depression.

Try to stay in touch with your mind and body, including your mood, the way your clothes fit and any unusual physical or mental symptoms. Changes in how you normally feel or look can be a sign of health issues. If you notice changes in your health that concern you, consider booking an appointment with your general practitioner.

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