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How to Survive Night Shift As A Nurse

If you haven’t worked a night shift yet, the odds are you will you battle to survive night shift at some point in your nursing career. Night shift is… well, let’s say that it can be unbearably uneventful, or excruciatingly eventful. Surviving night shift as a nurse can be challenging, but also rewarding for shift differential pay.

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What are Night Shift Hours?

Night shift is a nursing (or hospital) shift that is typically from the hours of 1900-0700 (7 p.m. to 7 a.m.). There may be some night shift schedules that are 1600-0300 (3 p.m. to 3 a.m.) or 2300-1100 (11 p.m. to 11 a.m.).

This shift is infamous in the nursing community because of what happens on night shift. Night shift can be extremely boring or unbelievably eventful.

What Does Night Shift Do to You?

Working night shift as a nurse is unlike anything you’ll ever experience. Nursing night shift is a combination of extreme lack of sleep, unorganized craziness and unbelievable boredom at times. Night shift might make you go insane or you might love it. Regardless of your personal feelings towards night shift, I think most nurses can agree that night shift is nothing like nursing day shift.

In addition to severe tiredness, nurses will get paid a shift differential for working night shift. Shift differentials (shift diffs) will depend on what institution you work for, but are usually between $1.50-$3.00 an hour.

Why would anyone want to work the night shift? Besides the extra pay, I think that night shift is a great experience for new nurses to go through. On night shift, you will learn how to call the doctor, troubleshoot your own problems and work as a team.

How to Adjust to Night Shift

How do you adjust to night shift, well there are several tips that we have to help you get through the night. Make it through night shift by following this easy tips. Improving just one of these aspects of your life can drastically improve your experience and help you survive night shift.

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Get Adequate Sleep

Getting a good sleep is one of the most obvious was to get through night shift, but what some don’t know is how important a sleep schedule can be to achieving that goal. Creating a night shift sleep schedule that works with your everyday schedule can be difficult if you are in school or have other commitments during the day, but it is vital to ensuring you get the best sleep you can. One other “secret” of sleep is to sleep is a cool, dark spot. It can actually help you to get a better night’s sleep (or day’s sleep).

Eat Adequate Calories

Adequate calories throughout your shift and in your off time is vital in creating a balanced schedule for night shift work. Getting on a schedule, especially for eating meals, is beneficial in not only getting adequate calories, but adequate sleep. Eating several small meals can help with this due to the lower digestion requirements needed for smaller meals.

After-Shift Workouts

Working out after a shift can be extremely challenging because of the obvious exhaustion from the previous, but it can be helpful in getting into that schedule we love to talk about. Getting into the habit of hitting the gym after a shift can help you get better sleep while sleeping during the day and feel more revitalized when waking up. Going to the gym before can be beneficial as well, but can make you tired throughout your shift.

Take Breaks!

Sometimes you just cannot get to the break room to take a full lunch or small fifteen minute breaks, and we understand that. BUT, if you have the chance, please take full advantage of your breaks! They are given to you for a reason and every nurse should take advantage of the time to either grab a snack, take a quick nap, or just give your brain a rest.

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Drive Home Safely

One of the biggest risks and dangers of night shift is the drive home, especially if you have a long commute. It is a complete understatement to say that getting home safely is important. Ensuring you get proper sleep, rest, food intake, water and other nutrients all adds up to the safest you that you can be for yourself and your patients!

How to Stay Awake on Night Shift?

Caffeine

This is one of your most powerful tools to survive any shift, especially nights. Grab a Monster, coffee, or whatever your favorite caffeine-soaked drink is and bring a few! Now I realize that some of these drinks are not necessarily the healthiest choices, but even just one coffee on night three out of three can go a long way in making it through the night. Just be sure to not drink caffeine right before your shift is over or you might not be able to fall asleep, thus messing up your sleep cycle.

Hot Tea

If caffeine drinks aren’t your thing, then another type of drink that can be super helpful (and healthy) is hot tea! Hot drinks can invigorate your body and start to “wake you up” in a sense, hopefully helping you stay focused throughout the night. Another similar choice to hot tea is hot chocolate. Even hot chocolate can give you a slight sugar kick to help you make it until the morning.

Snacks

Snacks are extremely important for any shift, but with night shift can play a vital role in improving the experience. Granola bars, protein bars, chicken noodle soup and fruit gummies were all things that we found impressionable! Also, apples, grapes or other small fruits are handy to have around! Getting a good amount of fructose in the system is important to get that healthy, natural boost of energy. 

Fitbits (Or Other Fitness Trackers)

I found one thing that kept me particularly engaged in completing shifts was using a Fitbit. It was almost a fun game to keep track of your steps and see if you can beat yourself the next night, or if you could beat the amount of stairs you climbed, etc. One other thing that was fun to watch (if you have never used one before) was to watch your heart rate and track that throughout the night. 

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If you’re interested in a Fitbit or fitness tracker, here are some options:

Fitbit Charge

Fitness Trackers

Good Habits to Survive Night Shift

Take A Walk

Going for a walk, even just 5-10 minutes, can be beneficial in stimulating senses helping keep you awake and alert. It can also help to just give your mind a break from the stress of the floor and allow for you to relax and recuperate yourself. Visit a friend on another floor or that works in a different department and take a snack break!

Go the Extra Mile for Patients!

As nurses we innately try our best to go the extra mile for our patients every shift, but in reality sometimes it can be difficult to get done every single little thing we have to do. If you have extra time on night shift maybe do something you wouldn’t normally do for your patients. I couldn’t give you super specific examples because generally hospitals differ from each other in what they expect from their staff, but in whichever way you can, try to go above and beyond. 

Help Your Coworkers

Perhaps you’re having an uneventful, undramatic night… but I can almost guarantee there is someone else on your floor that isn’t having as good of a time. Help them out! Helping coworkers isn’t only beneficial for working relations, but can help give you stuff to do to stay awake all night!

Homework

If you are all caught up on responsibilities, feel free to open some books or pull up online modules and get homework done. Even extra studying can be helpful, not only for school, but for getting through the night as well!

Full Time Nurse

Striving to help nurses and nursing students succeed.

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