Travel Nurse: Hints to Prepare for a Night Shift


Over the years I have worked in several specialties and most of them have required 24-hour nursing coverage.  Some required an on-call nurse and others required night staff. Travel nurses most often fill night shifts. These travel nurse hints to prepare for a night shift will help you transition.

If working in a healthcare facility the night shift typically is 11 pm to 7 am.  Many facilities today have gone to 12-hour shifts of 7 am to 7 pm.  Working overnight could test your ability to be alert.  Research has found that switching from day to night shift can cause Shift Work Disorder.

I found a few hints for travel nurses to prepare for a night shift. As you travel if you are required to change shifts some of these may help you make the change

Make Sleep a Priority

As you prepare for your new assignment you need to make sleep a priority.  I generally do well with just 6 hours of sleep.  If you are making a change to your schedule you might find you need 8-9 hours.  Experts in the field of sleep recommend 7 – 9 hours of daily sleep for adults. has very comprehensive evidence-based information on sleep and sleep products to help you shift to nights.

Secondly, try power napping.  I am not a nap taker but when working nights, a nap in the afternoon seems to give me that little boost of energy. Power naps can help you to gradually change your sleeping habits and prepare for those night shifts.

After a couple of days off, you will want to get back to your sleep schedule. Try staying up late the night before getting back to work. Sleep in on the day of work and take naps. Try grouping your consecutive days and nights if possible.

Establish a Routine and Be Consistent

Also, understand the change in lifestyle will impact your household.  If you are traveling with children and/or a spouse the change will affect everyone. Imagine how your change will affect your routines.   How frequently and when do you eat? Do you exercise and when? When do you do laundry and grocery shop?  Once you have your new schedule, you can start to organize your day.

If you have pets remember that their routine will change also. Plan their meals and walks so they don’t interfere with your sleep schedule. 

Meals and Meal Prep

The foods we choose can impact our energy level, mood, and performance.  Foods that boost energy are good to pack and have handy while working the night shift.  The goal is to stay alert and energized at work but able to crash when it is time for sleep. 

Prepare well-balanced meals high in protein and low fat. Smaller frequent meals or snacks to keep energy levels up as needed. A good resource to help with choices for meal planning is healthy meal planning tips for travel nurses.

Water and Caffeine

Staying hydrated is important. Drinking plenty of water will help to keep you awake during the shift. 

Every nurse knows how important a pot of good coffee is for keeping us awake and alert.  Coffee or your beverage of choice provides a benefit to travel nurses on the night shift. Just be aware that too many caffeinated products can make you jittery and less productive. So, the moral is like with most things, drink caffeinated beverages in moderation.

Keep Moving

Avoiding fatigue while working night shift is a challenge. Many nurses like night shift since it is historically slower and quieter. To avoid feeling fatigued get-up and move. Take a walk, climb stairs and visit the nursery to see the babies or drink something with caffeine with a snack. Don’t let the fatigue creep in and slow you down. 

Take this time to bond with your co-workers.  Slow times are times when you can learn more about the people and places to visit while assigned there.  This may be the time when you develop a lasting friendship. 

Getting Home Safely

 After working a night shift, it is not unusual to feel sleepy. If this happens it is best to not drive yourself home. Here is documentation from the Transport Accident Commission that states about  20% of fatal road accidents involve driver fatigue.

There are several other options to get you home.  Maybe you need to take a cab or rideshare to get home.  Take a nap is possible or exercise by taking a walk or run.  It is best to be to get home safe whatever it takes.    

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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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