Tips for Nurses to Survive (and Thrive) Working Night Shift

Most nurses will work an occasional or regular night shift within their careers. Some healthcare professionals avoid those odd hours while others are drawn to them. Though many assumptions are often made about the night shift, this schedule could be a good option for you.

Between better pay and more flexibility, there are plenty of benefits to working the night shift. If you’re interested in the night shift or learning how to navigate that routine, we have tips for how to make that schedule easier on a nurse’s mind and body, plus best practices for transitioning in and out of your night shifts.

Is the Night Shift the Right Option?

The night shift routine is not for everyone. Before diving into all the strategies and tips about conquering night shift work, you should first fully evaluate if this schedule makes sense for your situation. Knowing the pros and cons of those hours will help you confidently determine if this shift is a good fit for you. 

Some potential perks of night shift work for nurses to consider:

  1. Possible Pay Increase: Sometimes, but not always, the night shift pays more than the daytime hours. This bonus can sometimes outweigh the challenges that can come with an unusual shift schedule, especially when you implement strategies to effectively manage those night shifts. 
  2. Quieter Hours: Though the night shift does come with some quiet perks, don’t assume you’ll be able to slow down much through the shift. In reality, those hours could be just as much patient work but with a twist of calm – visiting hours won’t interfere with your shift, and your time will be more focused one-on-one with patients rather than also managing questions and concerns from loved ones. Some facilities do have a much quieter night shift compared to daytime work, sometimes even with opportunities to take a quick nap during the shift. Before you assume you’re taking a quiet shift, look closely at a facility’s nighttime situation.
  3. Flexibility: Sometimes a clustered night shift schedule (often working three nights in a row, or sometimes just slightly broken up throughout the week) offers plenty of flexibility with the rest of your weekdays. Some of that extra time will be affected by transitioning in and out of the night shift work, but overall, this schedule can sometimes offer large windows of flexible time in your week.

A few of the drawbacks of working the night shift might include:

  1. Disrupted Sleep: Much about the night shift is unnatural, and your body may feel that over time. Recognizing ways to combat disrupted sleep will be imperative to successful night shift work. Long-term health effects can arise from consistently disrupting your sleep schedule, so you need to decide if you’ll be able to afford yourself the recovery time and intentional habits needed to minimize the negative effects of the night shift schedule.
  2. Ongoing Fatigue: Staying awake as a night shift nurse can be challenging both on and off the job. You’ll need to learn what strategies work best for you while on your shift to keep your body and mind fully present, especially if your circumstances involve a long commute or busy daytime situations surrounding your shifts.
  3. Difficult Transitions: The shifts themselves are only part of the difficulty of working nights. You’ll also need to consider transitioning in and out of your shifts and what that will make your days off look like. Heading to bed at counterintuitive times and living with loved ones on more regular schedules can be difficult parts of workday transitions.

In the end, only you can know how your body and mental state will respond to these pros and cons of the night shift. But if these hours sound like something you are seriously considering, here are some helpful ways to prepare for the hours before, during, and after night shifts.

Best Practices for Night Shift Nurses

After weighing the pros and cons of night shifts, consider these helpful strategies to set you up for successful hours on the clock.  

  1. Connect with Colleagues: Chats with colleagues might seem like a natural part of the job rather than a strategy for staying alert, but this simple habit will naturally help keep you awake. Your colleagues are also in the same boat as you are, and they may have some hard-earned advice for navigating a challenging work schedule.
  2. Caffeine, but with Strategy: While you might feel like a quick caffeine fix is the best way to stay awake on the shift, be sure to time those beverages strategically. If you drink caffeine close to ending your shift, you may have a difficult time falling asleep after work and getting your body back into the right routine. Consider trying to stay hydrated with just water instead, which will still help keep you awake but without negatively affecting your sleep cycles. 
  3. Physical Activity: Stopping for a quick stretch or brisk walk will help your body stay energized and awake during your shift. Incorporating physical habits as part of your routine every night can also help your body understand and positively respond to your schedule.
  4. Consistency: Intentional off-hour habits will be necessary at home when working a regular night shift schedule. Healthy foods will sustain you without risking energy crashes, and keeping your habits similar across all working and non-working days will help with your overall health. 

These tips can help with smoother night shifts for nurses and less overall physical and mental toll after working odd hours. 

Best Habits Before and After Night Shifts

Getting through the shift is only part of the challenge of night nursing. The days before and after your patient care hours are just as important in helping you manage the effects of a taxing schedule.

In the days leading up to your shift or directly after work days, be sure to focus on these helpful habits:

  • Communicate: Your friends and family will need to understand your schedule so that you can have the right support. Tools like white noise and room-darkening shades will be helpful when trying to get rest at odd times.
  • Adjust Sleep Patterns: Even when it’s not a day at the hospital, you may need to give your body more time to adjust to the hours you’ll be on shift. Depending on your schedule, staying up late or going to bed early on off days will set you up for an easier transition.
  • Consistency: When able, choosing a consistent sleeping and eating schedule while at home will help your body better regulate transitions. Your dinners might always be a little earlier or bedtimes a little later than your social circle, but small changes made consistently will afford you better health.

Transitioning into and out of your night shifts will take some trial and error as you learn what works best for your body, but incorporating some of these habits consistently will give you a helpful place to start.

Night Shift Nurse Jobs at SHC

With a wide variety of shifts and facilities to search through, finding the right nursing job for you can be daunting. At Supplemental Health Care, we can help connect you with a night shift position that best fits your situation. We are committed to helping you build a career caring for others while also fitting your situation and schedule.

For more information about how to find the right role for you, contact us today.

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