5 Questions For Night Shift Nurses

We had an overwhelmingly positive response to our last article about working the night shift. Our community wanted to more things they can do better prepare themselves and be more productive on their night shifts.

So we decided to reach back to you guys who have successfully conquered the night shift and ask you guys to chime in. We wanted to know what else has made some of you successful on the shift.

Here is what we did. We created a survey of few question and sent it out you guys. We collected and read all the responses. We made a collection of what we thought was the best response to every below.

We believe this will provide you with more actionable advice you can take that can help be a better nurse, accelerate your career, dread the night shift less, and enjoy your life more. We hope this helps.

​What do you do during the day to prepare yourself for the night shift?

The following response is from Kathy Jo of Raleigh, North Carolina.

During the day. The number most important thing to me is sleep. I need to get rest. I need at least seven solid hours of sleep in a dark room to feel good going into my night shift. I do not get that then I will be miserable on shift. 

Make sure to eat a big meal before going to work. This will keep you energized throughout the shift. You need to make sure it is nutritious and oratorically dense. A lot of protein, healthy fats, and good carbs. This is good because now you body will have a large amount of the calories its for the night before you even go to work.

Your body does not like it when you take in food at night. Even if you are on a different schedule. Through years of environmental conditioning, our bodies have adjusted to being awake during the day and sleeping at night. Therefore  our bodies have special and different metabolic processes for food in both parts of the day. 

During the day, the body processes all the food you eat because you are supposed to be “go’go” mode. At night, you are supposed to be sleeping and going on a eight hour fast. Therefore, your body is in “holdover” mode until you wake up. Hence everything slows down. This is why you body cannot process food as well at night and never will. 

This is why I think it is best to get get in a big meal before you go to work. So you only have to eat small meals or snacks when you are actually at work. This will not disturb your body as much.  The research backs this theory up too. I read if you eat big meals at night, you will be more prone to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other nasty chronic diseases.

No fun. So get sleep, feed yourself in the daytime, and take take care of a couple chores. I have been nursing for 12 years. Do this and you should be fine. 😉

​What do you do help yourself sleep during the day?

This response is from Cathy S from Livingston, New Jersey

The best way to get daytime is to make your bedroom as dark and as quiet as possible. I have thick shades over my windows. When I close them almost no light gets through. I have friends that request to have their apartments with no windows. I think thick windows curtains or shades are best way to go. I have been using them for years. 

Your apartment or bedroom needs to be really quiet. You really want to replicate a nightly environment for your body. Nights are usually very quiet. So close the door and turn all your technology devices off. 

Remember to set a sleeping schedule. For example, I get out of work by 7:30 am when I am on the night shift. My work is a 15 minute drive from home. My goal is to eat a small snack and be in bed by 8:30 am. This is usually no problem for me because I am exhausted from work anyway. 

I wake up between 4pm and 5 pm. The wake up time usually depends on how tired I am, do I need to do chores and tasks around the house, and if I have work the next night. This really helps put my body on a schedule and makes it way easy to get adequate rest. 

I highly you put your body on a sleep schedule that works for you. Use all the tips I mentioned above and you will be fine.

What habits do you think are most helpful to create outside the job to help feel your best for the night shift?

This is response is from Ryan P of Arlington, VA

There are only a couple habits that are needed to keep your life on track outside your job. I think of the biggest biggest is transitioning to a healthier life style. For example, when I started working the night shift. I lost weight over a couple weeks and started to feel sick all the time. I did not know what it was. 

I went to my physician and explained my lifestyle to him. He could relate because he used to do the same thing when he was in residency. I told me to get good sleep, eat healthy food, exercise, and maintain a social life. 

So I started working out on my off days and I eat a lot better. I eat a lot of fruits, vegetables, white meat, garlic, and other good stuff. It has helped a lot. I highly recommend you instill good health habits in your life. It will go a long way in making you feel better on the night shift and in general.  

This is also very important. Make sure you hang out with your friends and family on your days off. It will keep you sane. It gives you human contact outside of work. This is great because you will not turn into a nocturnal freak that does not leave his or her apartment outside work and running tasks. Also, having good people in your life makes you happier. 

How do you stay alert and active the shift?​

This response is from Daniel R from Bucks County, Pennsylvania

Honestly, the best way to do this is stay on your feet most of the time. Keep your blood running and your brain engaged. If you are busy on the night shift than this will not be an issue. Very few nurses I know have trouble staying focused when they is plenty of things that need to be done. If they do, it is because they did not get enough sleep during the day.

The problem is when you have down time.  Trying to keep yourself alert when there is not much to do can be a challenge. Like I said earlier, the first thing I would recommend is stay on your feet most of the night. Try not to sit or lay down anywhere for more than couple minutes at a time. It will increase your chances of drowsiness. 

If you wan to stay alert on shift do one of these three things:

1) Have intellectual and thoughtful conversations with co-workers and hospital staff – You do not have to talk about personal issues, politics, relationships, or gossip. You can simply talk about career goals, job salaries, vacation plans, or trade funny stories with each other.

I personally try and stay away from sensitive issues and emotionally charged subjects. That can lead to depressing or emotional conversation. Neither of which are good for working the night shift and taking care of patients. 

2) Brainstorm and write down things that are important to you – What are you aspiring to do with your career or life? What are your personal goals? If you have downtime on your shift. These are good things to think about and plan out. You can write them down in a small notebook while you are at. This will help you stay alert and help the time go by faster. 

3) Bring an interesting magazine or book to read – This is pretty simple. Bring something interesting to read. Something that makes you think or gets you engaged. I would stand up while reading to. This will minimize the potential chances of drowsiness.

How get one on one time with your manager?​

This response is from Toby T of Lexington, Kentucky

One of the best ways to get in front of your manager when you re stuck on night shifts is to simply just come in to hospital on a day off and ask your manager about your job performance. Ask for constructive feed back and have intelligent conversation about the job. Schedule a time with your boss and make it happen.

Then go take those improvement tips and apply them immediately. This is so the next time you talk to your manager you can tell him or her that their suggestions worked and that you are thankful for their help. This will build rapport with your manager. 

I am a travel nurse that has had many different bosses and this has still worked very well for me in the past. Managers love helping the nurses when they have the time. This shows that you care about your work and that you can take some criticism. You want your manager to know that you are easy to approach and hard working.  

Because of those traits, your manager will think highly of you even if you are on night shifts. These things will keep you in your manager’s mind. Be sure to  take advantage of your day shifts too. Get in front of your manager during the day. Good luck.

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The responses to these questions should give you a couple more ideas on how to handle the night shift. Different things work for different people. Be sure to try different strategies and lifestyle habits. Some things might work better than you imagined.

With that said, there are some essentials. They are in the form of daytime sleep and healthy lifestyle habits in the form of diet and exercise.

You should have all the information you need now to prepare yourselves for the night shift. Take of your bodies and allow them time to recover.

Good Luck