10 tips for nurses on the night shift

iStockphoto | ThinkStock + Scrubs
iStockphoto | ThinkStock + Scrubs

Do you work nights? You’re not alone! Nights work better for a lot of nurses and offer a unique experience both on the floor and off. It’s always good to bond with other nurses who get your groove, so check out The Nerdy Nurse’s 10 tips for staying sane and adjusting on the job while on the night shift.

If you’re scheduled to work the night shift as a nurse, you’d better start saving up on that sleep and getting ready for long nights that will switch between being arduously boring and tremendously busy, seemingly at random. Unlike the day shift in hospitals and medical clinics, the night shift often sees a less steady flow of traffic, though things can get really messy and hectic should an emergency occur overnight.

Below, read through 10 tips that can be helpful to you as you prepare for the night shift routine so you’re not instantly overwhelmed, whether you’re rotating from the day shift or starting a brand-new position entirely.

#1 – Avoid the Coffee (for the most part)

One of the worst ways to set yourself up for an energy crash later in your shift is by relying too heavily on mugs of coffee to keep yourself awake and alert. Drinking a lot of coffee early in your shift may help you feel energized at the start of your shift, but you’ll find yourself lacking only a few hours later, and eventually you won’t be able to stay alert no matter how much coffee you stuff yourself with. If you need coffee, try a single cup later on in your shift when you just can’t manage any longer without it, for a last-minute alertness-boosting aid. That way, you won’t feel the coffee crash until at least your shift is over.

#2 – Be Prepared for the Unexpected

When you regularly work the day shift, you can expect either a steady stream of patients or at least know the ebbs and flows of typical clinic or hospital day traffic. At night, it’s often more difficult to stick to a routine, namely because there can be long stretches where nothing is happening, only to be interrupted by a serious emergency out of nowhere. By always being prepared for an unexpected event, you won’t have to brace yourself as hard should you suddenly be needed to help during an emergency at 3:30 a.m.

#3 – Know Your Allies

Night-shift teams in hospitals are often known for being rather tight-knit, probably as a response to the lack of urgent happenings every other minute, allowing nurses, doctors and other personnel to get to know each other better. Night shifts can be hard to sit through, especially if you’re more of a day person, so knowing who you can rely on during those long, rote stretches can be a big advantage to you in the long run.

#4 – Request the Day Shift Whenever Available

Some nurses who work only the night shift complain about having their career momentum stalled, particularly those who were moving up quickly when previously working the day shift. This has less to do with the job performance of those working the night shift and more to do with the big advantage of working during the day, which is the networking aspect. Most of the hospital or clinic’s higher-ups will be at work only during the day for the most part, meaning they’ll interact primarily with day-shift nurses per routine. If you’re struggling to get noticed and only work night hours at the moment, you may want to consider adding some day shift hours as well, if available, to raise your visibility to those who can help you move forward on your career path.

#5 – Wear Bright Colors

When there’s no natural sunlight to keep you in a cheery, alert mood, and you only have dull-colored nursing scrubs to stare at otherwise, you can feel like you’re living in a muted environment, which can be depressing. By wearing bright, cheerfully colored nursing scrubs, you can not only boost your mood, but also that of your patients, who not only have to put up with a medical incident, but also staying awake at whatever remote hour it is.

To read the rest of the story, head on over to The Nerdy Nurse. Then, in the comments below, give us your own advice for nurses on the night shift!

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The Nerdy Nurse

Brittney Wilson, RN, BSN, also known as The Nerdy Nurse, is a Clinical Informatics Specialist practicing in Georgia. In her day job she gets to do what she loves every day: Combine technology and healthcare to improve patient outcomes. She can best be described as a patient, nurse and technology advocate, and has a passion for using technology to innovate, improve and simplify lives, especially in healthcare. Brittney blogs about nursing issues, technology, healthcare, parenting and various lifestyle topics at thenerdynurse.com

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4 Responses to 10 tips for nurses on the night shift

  1. Suzanne Lemon

    Have faith in your colleagues and keep each other laughing

  2. charity13

    I’ve Ben a LPN/LVN for 21 yrs and I’ve worked all shifts, but the NOC shift is my forte, my only real thing I want to share is we are extremely adaptable and when the night shift is a good team they are able to set the tone for the next shift, but for all who think at the administration level that people sleep your nuts!!! Please don’t ever tell a nightshift nurse or CNA you have the easy shift, you have no idea, how 3 people take care of 47 residents when all breaks loose and we do it without anyone able to help, give respect where its do, and do it when being awake is not natural for the body all night, and still go home, find away to sleep and take care of our kids, husbands, etc, we are prone to sleep deprivation and more risk for health issues, why do we do it? Because we need to and our patients need us

  3. carolslee1949

    I worked the night shift in a long term care facility for 12 years. Fortunately, I was able to request to have my 2 days off together. I didn’t mind working the weekends, so my “weekend” was Monday and Tuesday. I could schedule appointments knowing I would have those 2 days off, unless I was called in unexpectantly. I tried to arrange my sleep schedule so that I slept for 8-9 hours together, by going to bed no later than 12 Noon and then getting up around 9pm. I had blackout drapes and turned my phone off. My family and friends generally knew I worked the night shift and tried not to bother me. The people who tended to leave messages in the middle of the afternoon were my DON or unit manager. Another family member frequently worked the night shift, so it worked out well.

  4. BrittaLei13

    I work 12 hour night shifts in the ER of a level 1 trauma center. (Usually 4 in a row because nursing school is going to be expensive!) I know the super powers that be (JC, OSHA, etc.) say no food at the nurses’ station, but I have a work bag and lunch box that fits in it and I stash quick high-protein, high-carb snacks in it. And if someone asks me why I’m eating at the nurses’ station, my response is, “Do you really want me to be hangry? That’s lethal… for everyone.” Am I right? ;-D