Tips for Surviving the Night Shift

It’s Sunday at noon and the rest of the family is raring to go. But one member, Mom, who works the night shift as a nurse at a nearby hospital, is noticeably dragging. Despite the fact that she had the night before to catch some sleep, she looks anything but rested. The truth is that night-shift nurses may pay a price for bucking the usual 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule.

Nurses who work a typical night shift from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. are more at risk for a range of health problems, including obesity, heart disease, glucose intolerance, decreased insulin sensitivity, and even musculoskeletal disorders. They’re also prone to making more mistakes on the job due to sleep deprivation.1

At the heart of such issues is a problem known as circadian misalignment. Since your body is programmed to wake up with the sun, your night-shift schedule is interfering with your normal rhythms. Night-shift workers who attempt to switch back to a normal pattern on their off days can end up even more fatigued, with their circadian clock more confused than ever.2

Fortunately, there are ways to actually thrive on the night shift. Nurses on this off-kilter schedule can try the following:

  • Create your own sleep cocoon. Get some blackout shades that keep your bedroom dark even in daylight. Put in some earplugs, turn off your phone, and get a solid period of sleep, just as you would during the night. It’s also helpful to try to go to bed at roughly the same time each day, so that your body can acclimate.
  • Healthy does it. Those on the night shift must make healthy eating an even higher priority than their day-shift counterparts. Avoiding sugary items such as cookies and cakes, which may boost your energy levels temporarily only to send your energy crashing afterward, is important. Snacking instead on dried fruit offers an energy lift without the mood swings and sudden drop. It may also be wise to eat smaller meals, consuming foods such as fruits and vegetables, as well as foods high in protein and low in fat.
  • Be cautious with caffeine. While caffeinated beverages such as coffee, cola, and tea, are part of life on the night shift and can indeed help to keep workers alert, it’s important not to overdo it. Remember, too much caffeine can cause issues ranging from simple jitteriness to heart palpitations and anxiety.3
  • Fight fatigue with exercise. When it’s 4 a.m. and nurses are perhaps at their most fatigued, it can be a good idea to get the blood flowing. You may want to walk the hospital halls or use the stairs instead of the elevator to get where you’re going. In the break room, try a quick yoga pose or some simple stretching.
  • Connect with your co-workers. If you’re part of the night-shift nursing staff, there are others on the floor with you. Those who work the night shift tend to have a special camaraderie. These nurses rely on each other to make sure that all goes smoothly, especially with fewer managers working the same hours. When you work the night shift, you are part of a special team and you know it.

Contact the admissions office to find out more about the Loyola University New Orleans School of Nursing degree programs. You can earn your degree and be ready to go night or day.

Registered nurses who are ready to explore the advanced career options made possible with a nursing master’s degree can visit to learn more, or speak with an admissions representative by calling toll-free (866) 789-9809.