Transitioning to night shift is often anxiety-filled with not exactly knowing what to expect or if you’ll even transition appropriately. Whether you are a new grad or an experienced nurse, transitioning to night shift may feel scary, but it’s definitely manageable. Think about it, there are so many nurses who already do it, and those who do work nights typically love it. Less management, fewer politics, less noise, and disruptions? Count me in! That being said, nights do need some preparation, so here are my top five tips to help you transition to night shift as a nurse.
1. Make sleep your best friend
Transitioning to night shift is often a difficult transition for many nurses because they are not used to modifying their sleep patterns. Working night shifts will interrupt your usual sleep pattern and force you into one that involves sleeping during the day. My tip here is to focus on your sleep and make it your best friend or priority. Try analyzing your regular sleep habits. Make sure you think about your sleeping environment, how long it usually takes you to fall asleep, and how many hours you need to function properly. Once you’ve had time to think about these things, now translate it to your new work schedule and make it work for you. Be sure to make your environment conducive for proper sleep by utilizing black-out curtains, disconnecting doorbells, maintaining a cool environment with a fan or A/C, etc. Other things to consider, in an effort to improve sleeping throughout the day are utilizing eye masks, earplugs, and avoiding alcohol consumption, caffeinated drinks, or food close to your new bedtime.
2. Know when to limit the caffeine
Let’s face it; caffeine is typically a night shift nurses’ savior, particularly when trying to stay awake during those long and uneventful nights. I understand that it’s helpful, especially when initially transitioning to nights since you’re so used to sleeping at that time, but depending on when and the amount you consume, your caffeine can worsen your sleep ahead of you. My tip here is to limit the amount of caffeine you drink as much as possible and try to understand your limits when you can consume caffeine, so it doesn’t negatively impact your sleep that same day. Try not to overdo it, or you’ll be in for a long morning.
3. Stay active
Studies have shown that night shift nurses tend to experience the most exhaustion and drowsiness around 3 or 4 am. This is significantly harder on newer night shift nurses because they are not used to being awake at this time. My tip for you is to stay active, especially during your breaks. Staying active throughout your shift is an effective way to improve your energy levels. Methods to staying active can include: trying to walk your lab specimens to the laboratory; if not urgent, try walking up and down the stairs throughout your lunch; try doing air squats in the break room; or maybe even help other nurses with tasks, if you aren’t busy. Utilizing these things to keep you active will help you avoid excessive drowsiness throughout your shift.
4. Maintain a balanced diet
Have you ever consumed a large, calorie-dense meal and instantly regretted it because now you are in a “food coma?” Well, imagine consuming that same meal after midnight paired with you already being drowsy; imagine how tired you’ll be then. It’s vital to consume well-balanced and healthy foods throughout your shift. Not only does it have its nutritional benefits, but it can also improve your energy throughout your shift. It’s essential to stay away from fattier foods and focus on foods that can provide more nutrients and fuel, such as bananas, fish, sweet potatoes, apples, eggs, yogurt, hummus, oranges, avocados, etc. Bright-colored veggies typically are higher in vitamins and minerals and can help provide natural energy. Another recommendation is to consume smaller meals with snacks to ensure you are fueled for your whole shift.
5. Pay attention to your body and know when to seek help
My most important tip is to pay close attention to your body and know when to ask for help. Nurses do a tremendous job in caring for others but often put others’ needs before their own. Nurses need to understand their limits, and sometimes working night shifts can negatively impact our bodies, both physically and mentally. It’s important to know when you feel something is out of the ordinary or if something isn’t right and to seek professional help. Reaching out for help is NOT a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength. Make sure to make yourself a priority.
Trust me, transitioning into night shift isn’t as difficult as it seems. It may feel daunting and possibly nerve-wracking at first, but there are plenty of resources available that will make the transition less rocky. Having worked the night shift for more than five years, I would say the first few nights can be rough, but the transition is seamless and gets more comfortable with time if done appropriately. Make sure you utilize these tips when making that initial transition. These tips are important to focus on, especially in the long run, to maintain your physical and mental health. If you can motivate yourself to use some of these tips, you’ll do great. Keep up the hard work, and congrats on your transition, and I’ll be rooting for you!