Five Tricks for Surviving Night Shift

nurse_nightNight shift—every nurse has had to work these gruesome shifts at one point or another. Smart preparation can make all the difference in the world, so here are five tricks from a seasoned night shift veteran that will help you get through your next round of nights.

#1: Don’t do it.

Working at night is rough. The gravitational pull of the moon and decades of circadian rhythm demand that your body sleep at night. Headaches, nausea, lethargy, weight gain, and feeling like you got hit by a train are all potential side effects of defying nature and staying up all night. If there is any way you can get out of it, do it! Beg, plead, work weekends, whatever it takes to get out of it. But if you must do it or want to do it…,

#2: Drink Coffee.

Coffee is magic. Minimize caffeine on days you don’t need it, so that your body stays sensitive to caffeine in your moment of greatest need—which is undoubtedly during night shifts.

#3: Prioritize sleep.

Don’t plan events during the day. You are working night shifts, life as you know it is over. Accept it.

#4: Practice good sleep hygiene.

I know, I know, the very fact that you are working at night means that you are ignoring the #1 rule of good sleep hygiene. But sleep hygiene makes a difference, so here are a few tips.

  • Quit drinking caffeine 5-6 hours before you want to sleep. This means that you should STOP drinking coffee by 3:00 a.m. This will help ensure that your sleep is of the highest possible quality.
  • Make your room completely dark. You must trick your body into thinking that it is night, and even the slightest bit of light can ruin the façade. Install blackout shades. Turn off computers, speakers, printers, and anything else with those annoying LED lights.
  • TURN YOUR PHONE OFF! If you must leave it on for, learn how to use it! Most phones have settings that you can adjust so that you can accept calls from certain people or ignore first calls but let the second attempt through. This will allow you to sleep through Aunt Ethel’s call about the cat, while leaving you available to be contacted for emergencies.
  • Take melatonin. Your body naturally produces it at night (and when it is dark!), so taking it before you go to bed in the morning can help simulate night-time. This doesn’t work for everyone, but give it a shot!

#5: Have a plan for the transition.

Transitioning effectively requires discipline. The night before you work a night shift, stay up as late as you can and sleep in as late as you can. If possible, sleep at least 1-2 more hours than normal. This will help you get through that first night. When coming off a night shift and switching back to day shift, try this: sleep 3-4 hours, then get up and do something! (I find that planning an activity with a friend really helps). Then by the time evening comes around you will be ready to sleep again, and voila! You’re back on day shift!

Follow these five tricks, and you might just find that night shift isn’t so bad after all! Good luck!

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Thoughts on “Five Tricks for Surviving Night Shift

    Ben, you are right on. I worked nightshift for 9 years. Sleep was priority.


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