Nocturnal Life: 5 Tips for Night Shift Nurses


The moon is up at the starry night sky and while everyone else is just arriving home from a long work day, you are just about to begin yours. Yup, you are nocturnal, an owl, a graveyard shifter, a night shift nurse. You turn your nights into days and consider days as nights. You are awake when everyone else is sleeping, and are deep in slumber when the rest is just starting their day.

Okay, you know what you signed up for the moment you set foot in nursing school, but there are times when you just couldn’t help but question yourself, can you still make it? With your body clock a bit messed up, you feel a bit stressed and extra tired. How can you go on? How far can you still go? Below are some tips for the people of night, aka you:

  • Get an Adequate Amount of Sleep

Having a messed up body clock doesn’t mean that you have to forgo having a decent amount of sleep. Make sleep a priority at home, schedule your sleep. Take measures to create an environment conducive for sleep such as by using curtains that darker the room; and disconnecting things that will disrupt sleep, such as the door bell, phones and electronics.

According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), night shift nurses should keep the same bedtime and wake time schedule (even on weekends); use eye masks and ear plugs to eliminate noise and lights from a sleep environment; as well as avoid consuming alcohol and caffeinated beverages/foods close to bedtime.

  • Use Caffeinated Products Wisely

Of course as nurses, caffeine has become our best friend that is why it is next to impossible to avoid them, but we must remember that if we do consume caffeine products, we must do it wisely.

The NSF suggests drinking a caffeinated beverage, such as coffee, tea or cola, to help maintain alertness during a night shift. Taking about 20 to 35 minutes to improve an individual’s level of alertness, caffeine is an effective method for offsetting fatigue. However, it is important not to overdo caffeinated products, as drinking too much coffee can have its own issues.

  • Eat healthy

Being sleep deprived might lead one to prefer unhealthy food and might even lead to loss of appetite, but we should not succumb. It is important that we choose the items that provide energy but do not cause sleepiness or a ‘crash-and-burn’ effect later on in the shift as meals and snacks a nurse selects before and during the night shift can have a significant effect on energy, stamina, and performance levels.

It is also advised to consume smaller, more frequent light meals with raw salads, nuts, fruit, and vegetables. Furthermore, we should opt for well-balanced meals that include high-protein, complex carbohydrate, and low-fat foods.

  • Monitor your health

As healthcare workers who care for other people’s health, it is important that we do not forget yourselves, too. The NSF reports shift workers face a higher risk of experiencing insomnia, daytime sleepiness, high blood pressure, diabetes, menstrual irregularities, colds, and weight gain than day shift employees.

  • Exercise to stay alert

Despite all the cups of coffee, we still can’t avoid getting tired and drowsy around, let’s say, 4am. Of course, we know the consequences if we let sleepiness take over during our shift.

The NSF suggests engaging in a bit of exercise as a way to fight back when a feeling of fatigue starts to take over during the night shift. Staying active during breaks is an effective way to reboot energy levels, and may include taking a walk to the cafeteria, climbing a set of stairs, dancing to a song on the radio in the break room, or shooting hoops in the hospital parking lot.

While there are those who prefer working on night shifts, there are also those who dread it. However, working in shifts is part of our profession and as healthcare professionals who pledged to do what’s best for our patient’s health, it is important that we know how to deal with it. Night shift duties might be difficult, but they aren’t unmanageable. It’s just a matter of knowing how to get through it and having the determination to push through. Good luck, nurses!


Liane Clores, RN MAN

Currently an Intensive Care Unit nurse, pursuing a degree in Master of Arts in Nursing Major in Nursing Service Administration. Has been a contributor of Student Nurses Quarterly, Vox Populi, The Hillside Echo and the Voice of Nightingale publications. Other experience include: Medical-Surgical, Pediatric, Obstetric, Emergency and Recovery Room Nursing.

What Do You Think?