Working the night shift, or the graveyard shift, can be grueling. Emotional and physical problems are associated with the shift, which can have a crash-and-burn effect on the nurse. It has been proven that nurses who work nights are in poorer health than those who do not. The problems can stream over to patients if not dealt with appropriately. Apply some of these helpful tips to make the best of the most difficult shift to work.

Hydrate, Don’t Caffeinate

This tip is easier said than done. It is tempting for night shift workers to opt for a sugary latte than some H20 to combat fatigue. Grabbing that cup of coffee before you head home in the morning can disrupt your sleep cycle. Opt for caffeine when you wake up or early in the shift.

Strive for Healthy Eating

The body craves sugary treats when it is tired. “You are what you eat” holds true. Your body will respond in a positive or negative way with what is put inside of it. Lunch ideas for nurses include foods that are easy on the stomach like soup and smoothies. Small frequent meals can help stabilize your energy level. Large meals can cause fatigue because they take more energy to digest.

Trick the Body Into Thinking Day Is Night

It’s no secret that nurses who work the night shift are often exhausted. Constant fatigue, insomnia and difficulty staying asleep when the rest of the world is awake is a tough battle. Give yourself enough time to fall asleep, and stay asleep. This tip is tough to follow when you have young children, but an acceptable solution is to hire a babysitter so you can get the rest you need. Many nurses think they are invincible and do not need sleep. Don’t try it — it doesn’t help anyone if you are awake for too many hours a day.

More Tips to Fall Asleep Faster

The time right after a night shift is the hardest time to go to sleep. Nurses are tired, but an adrenaline rush from a change of shift or another event can make it difficult to settle down. Here are some more tips to fall asleep faster:

  • A bedroom – Go to your room to sleep, not the couch. Treat your sleep after work as your bedtime. It’s not a nap.
  • No electronics – Turn off the phone and direct someone as an emergency contact while you sleep. Sales calls often happen during the day, but nurses need to sleep.
  • A warm shower – A bath may induce sleep in the tub, so try a shower.
  • Boost your sleep hormone – Melatonin is the hormone that induces sleep. A darkened room can help stimulate your body’s production of this hormone by signaling to your mind that it is night time.

Tips to Make It Home Safely

According to the National Sleep Foundation, over 100,000 police-recorded crashes are due to driver fatigue. Don’t become a statistic. These tips can help you drive home safely after a long night.

  • Safety in numbers – Some nurses carpool to keep one another awake during their drive home.
  • Wind in your hair, and turn up the volume – Put those windows down and turn up the music. You might spot a night shifter driving home with the window down in the middle of winter.
  • Call someone – Nurses call whoever they can to stay awake when they drive. Calling a unit secretary or a spouse can help you reach home safe.
  • Pull over – When all else fails, pull over in a safe public place, set an alarm and close your eyes.

You may have no choice when it comes to working night shift. You may work it because it was the only shift open in your dream nursing job, or because of family obligations. Others do it because they like it. Whatever the reason may be, you must take care of yourself before, during and after the shift.

Learn more about the Eastern Michigan University online RN to BSN program.


U.S. News & World Report: How to Survive the Night Shift

Nursing Times: The First Time: Surviving the Night Shift Facts and Stats

The Oz Blog: Could Lack of Sleep Make You Crave Sweets?

LinkedIn: Do Night Shift Workers Die Sooner? Nurses, You Do.

Nursing Times: The First Time: Surviving the Night Shift

National Sleep Foundation: Melatonin and Sleep