How to Conquer the Night Shift


In the old days, nurses worked one of 3 eight hour shifts.  There were advantages to each shift.  I have worked all three at one time or another.  The day shift, of course, was most popular.  As an OR nurse I worked days and on call at night and weekends.  I learned a few ideas on how to conquer the night shift.

When I was single the evening shift 3 to 11 pm was great because you could go out after work for a couple hours and sleep late the next morning.  When I was raising my children the night shift worked best.  I could sleep during the day while children were in school, be awake for homework, dinner, and bathtime. before work.  I worked while they slept but was home in the morning to get them off to school.

Nowadays most hospitals now require 12-hour shits so working nights can be tough.  I was never able to sleep well during the day.  The good thing about night shift is generally it is less chaotic than days since patients are asleep.  Another thing that is good about night there is less administrative staff getting in the way.

Challenges of the night shift

With all of that said working night shift for nurses always presents unique challenges.  The hardest time for a nurse is around 3 am when the body screams that it wants to lie down in that comfy bed at home.  Deciding whether to drink another cup of coffee to stay awake yet able to fall asleep when you get home.  You know that it will take effect at the end of shift just as you get home and ready for bed.

To add to the difficulty is your life outside of work.  Your whole rhythm is disrupted when you just want to sleep but there is life in the opposing hours.  Family and friends want to spend time with you, appointments have to be made all around your erratic work schedule.

Regardless of the challenges of night shift nurses around the world have worked the shift for decades.  As a traveler, you may find yourself working this shift frequently.  By following a few of these tips you can conquer the night.

Transition Slowly

I know I handle change best when I prepare mentally.   If you know you will be transitioning to nights help your body prepare if it allows.  Stay up late and try different ways to fall asleep during the day.  Take naps to help you ease into the night shift to keep your body from feeling the shock of the change.

Create Your Sleep Environment

I use a product called Thyromin by Young Essential Oils and Cbd oil.  These two combined non-addictive supplements help me to drift off and sleep well and wake up without a hangover.  Blackout shades help if the light keeps you awake.  Instead of earplugs try white noise works to drown out the noise.  Getting into bed early after shift while it is still cool and still not as bright outside is important for me.  I like to sleep cold and under a good blanket but keep the temperature in your room comfortable.  Turn off your cell phone, computer, and TV until time to rise again.


Do not plan your exercise or run before you sleep as it is a stimulant.  Exercise before you shift to kick-start your metabolism and you will feel the positive effect for hours afterward. Consider yoga after your shift to decompress but if that is not your thing, try a warm bath or shower.  A good foot massage or a back rub by your partner might help you to drift off to sleep. You need to fall into a deep sleep to be fully rejuvenated. Some people require less time sleeping than others however in order to be effective at work your body needs that deep sleep.

Alchohol is not the answer

Alcohol inhibits the REM sleep that you need to wake up rested.  There are reports about the negative effect that alcohol has on the sleep-wake cycles.  If you are tempted to have a glass of wine or other alcoholic beverage before bed keeps in mind alcohol inhibits REM sleep.  Using the alcohol as a sleep aid means that you may not feel rested or even functional after waking up.

Schedule Your Sleep

I always found it easier to get to sleep right after I got home from a night shift.  Others may find it best to take care of life first. They prefer to have breakfast, do a load of laundry, run errands or lite house cleaning before bed.   If you are on 12-hour shifts realistically you have a few hours and still get enough sleep before preparing for work.

The best part of scheduling your sleep is you find what works best for you.  You schedule the time that allows you to sleep the best and yet arrive at work feeling refreshed and ready for your shift

Staying Awake on Night Shift

You got plenty of sleep before your shift but still at 3 A.M. you find yourself dragging. Try a few of the following ideas.

Start with an energy-filled meal

Before you start your shift have an energy filled meal.  Eat foods that give you energy like protein and whole grains.  These foods help to keep your energy level up unlike the crash and burn from refined carbs and sugars.

Drinking caffeinated drinks only help short term.  You will feel the crash after a while and go looking for something to give you a boost again.

A slow shift

From time to time you have a low census or a low acuity workload.  Certainly, there are times when patients are sleeping and not much needs to be done for a couple of hours.   When this happens be prepared with constructive busy work to make the time fly by.  Things, like updating charts, organizing storage areas, or cleaning out the break room, can keep you alert.  The day shift will be ever grateful for the help.

Maybe take the time to brush up on the latest nursing trends or prep for continuing education units.  Study for a certification exam in your area of specialty.

Make the night shift fun

There tends to be fewer senior staff on the night shift so nurses may depend more on their skills in times of crisis.  Spend some time getting to know the people you work with.  By building a sense of camaraderie you create a positive work environment.

Use your night off wisely

Make time to spend with family and friends to create a full life outside of work.  Find a fun hobby, something to look forward to on those off days.  There is life outside of work don’t spend your time in bed.  Plan for those days so that you don’t throw off your sleep rhythm.


There are nurses who have adjusted and learned to love nightshifts. If you have the right attitude and a good plan in place, you too can learn to love the nights.

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Cheryl Roby, RN

Cheryl J. Roby is a Registered Nurse and retired US Army Reserve Nurse Major. She has more than 30 years of nursing experience and 26 years of military experience in the Army Nurse Corp. During her nursing career, she has traveled as part of her military experience visiting many of the 50 states and to South Korea. She was trained as an Army Medic during the Vietnam era and later as an OR tec. She went on to become a Licensed Practical Nurse and then completed her nursing training as a Registered Nurse. She was then commissioned as an officer in the Army Reserves. She appreciated the challenge of working in various specialties and expanding her clinical and professional skill sets. Her time in the Army Reserves and California National Guard gave her the opportunity to travel to most of the 50 states and work in other medical facilities. During her career, she had the opportunity to work in several specialties to include, OR, Occupational Health, Hospice, Sexual Assault Team, Forensic/ Correctional Nurse, Nurse Case Manager for developmental disabilities, Parish Nursing as well as a Nurse Entrepreneur.

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