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Tips for Surviving the Night Shift on No Sleep

Healthcare Jobs

In a perfect world, every nurse would arrive at their night shift rested, clear-minded, and ready to work. But inevitably, sleepless nights will happen, and sometimes merely surviving the night shift as a nurse will be the best that you can do. That is to say, we get it. Nursing is an incredibly rewarding yet demanding profession, and sleep isn’t always on the menu. And while slipping into a deep slumber before a shift is ideal, especially since it regulates cognitive functioning, many nurses report getting less sleep before their scheduled shifts. Add an extra night shift here or there, and sleep can become even more disturbed. 

So what can you do if the sleeping dust doesn’t make it to your room the day before you are scheduled for a night shift? Luckily, we have some experience when it comes to surviving the night shift and tweaking your lifestyle so that fewer sleepless nights happen. With that said, below are some awesome tips to make it through your night shift on little to no sleep. 

nurse enjoying life

Get Some Sunshine

Night shifts can vary in start times. In general, however, this shift can begin between 6:30 and 11 pm, and a nurse can expect to work straight through the night. Because working a night shift goes against the natural regulation of your circadian rhythm, you can expect to feel a little off even with good rest. That’s because circadian rhythm naturally follows a twenty-four-hour cycle and reacts primarily to light and dark. In other words, nurses who work night shifts are constantly exposed to artificial light and stimuli, affecting their ability to regulate a healthy response to sunrise and sunset. Therefore, one way to survive a night shift is to get at least fifteen minutes of sunshine before your shift starts. Experts agree that just a tiny amount of sunshine a day can help boost your emotional well-being and prepare your body for better sleep the next night (or day). So if you find yourself consistently showing up to a night shift weary, try welcoming some sunshine into your life between shifts. 

Stay Active (Busy) 

Showing up to a night shift less than clear-minded can be challenging while working as a nurse. After all, medical decisions and procedures require clarity of thinking. Therefore, if you find yourself in a brain fog on a night shift, your best weapon to stay mostly clear-headed is to keep moving. Hopefully, staying active on shift won’t be difficult, considering nurses are constantly on their feet. However, doing a few jumping jacks or taking a brisk walk around your facility campus may help direct more blood to your brain. Needless to say, more blood flow to your brain will help you stay focused while working the night shift. Moreover, staying active while on shift will keep your body temperature up and may prevent you from hitting a wall (nodding off on the job). In any case, if you are feeling a snooze come on during your nursing night shift, get up and get moving!

Chat with Your Nurse Coworkers 

Remember when your professor used to tell you and your classmates not to talk during a lesson? Well, that rule doesn’t apply to night shifts. When it comes to feeling fatigued on a night shift, talking with your colleagues will be your best chance at fighting off exhaustion. That’s because chatting with friends reduces stress and elevates dopamine—all important components to help stay awake and alert while on shift. And while we are not suggesting that you chat up a storm and become distracted from your general nurse duties (such as focusing on your patients’ care requirements), we do believe that checking in with your coworkers during a night of no sleep is a good idea. This interaction can also mean asking a nurse colleague to help with some of your duties if you are swamped and feeling under the weather—of course, as long as you are willing to return the favor! Ultimately, connecting with and leaning on your coworkers will not only make your shift go by faster but will help you maintain enough energy to get through your workday—or worknight. 

A Nourished Nurse Is a Happy Nurse

Keeping yourself nourished plays a critical role in sustaining a healthy mind. That said, staying nourished is even more important if you want to survive the night shift on less than ideal sleep. First and foremost, stay hydrated. While having one cup of coffee to add some pep in your step before your shift is OK, try not to drink more than one. That is to say, limiting your caffeine intake or excluding it altogether before working a night shift can help improve your slumber the next day. Instead, reach for a big glass of water or herbal tea. Furthermore, choosing snacks that are packed with protein, such as nuts, cheese, and yogurt, can aid in keeping you awake and alert during the night shift. So, the next time you wake up feeling groggy before a shift, do this: Reach for a big glass of water and pack some protein-rich snacks to go. While you may still feel cloudy on the job, a nourished belly will take the edge off. 

Follow These Night Shift Tips and You. Will. Survive.

Countless nurses have shared their stories about surviving the night shift. The good news? They all survived, and so will you! With that said, establishing a healthy sleep routine is the key to preventing nurse burnout. When push comes to shove, your mental health and well-being should be a priority so you can give the best care to your patients. Therefore, sleep, nourishment, exercise, and bonding with coworkers will all help you be a true rockstar nurse during your night shift. 

Are you a PRN nurse with some tips for surviving the night shift? Let us know below. 

Written by Jenna Elizabeth

Jenna Hall is a freelance writer, yoga teacher, and travel fanatic with over ten years of experience in professional blogging. She graduated from California State University, Dominguez Hills, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. Shortly after graduation, Jenna headed to Latin America with a small leather journal, a disposable camera, and a pipe dream of being a travel writer on the go. After making a pit stop in Guatemala and receiving her 200-Hour Hatha Yoga Certification, Jenna was picked up by a Portland, Oregon-based active wear company to write for their blog on travel and wellness. She returned to the states, joined the corporate world for a stint, and then in 2014, Jenna permanently moved to South America to work at a local non-profit in Cochabamba, Bolivia to help with grant writing. She’s now published in several online publications and is known for gobbling up Bolivian street food until her tummy hurts, making sassy jokes in Spanish, and attempting to dance Salsa like a local. Clearly, Jenna has found her place in the world and continues to write and live a simple life in Bolivia with her husband and two kids.

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