Night Shift Nurses: 4 Tips for Working the ‘Off Hours’ Tour
By Aaron Moore, MSN, RN-BC, travel nurse expert
We all know that nursing is a 24/7 job. There must be someone there to care for the patient all the time. Whether you work ER, med-surg, or on call in the OR, you understand that the night shift is something you may have to work at some point or another. And night shift nursing presents its own unique challenges.
There are some of us who really enjoy working night shifts. Different pace, shift differential and a different type of co-workers! These were especially fun during my travel nursing jobs. I loved my night shifts, and I got to work with a lot of other travelers. Plus, in the two years prior to traveling, I had rotated working off tours, switching from days to nights, so a steady sleeping pattern was refreshing.
Nowadays I work the day shift only, but I recently had to switch and cover a night when a co-worker called in sick. I was worried about my lack of sleep and having to care for small children the next day, post call. But it all worked out because I applied my old, simple techniques I had used during my decade of working as a night shift nurse.
Here are four of my tried-and-true survival tips for night shift nurses:
1. Hydrate. You’re surprised I didn’t say caffeinate first? This is a common misconception. The evidence on this may be mostly anecdotal, but man does proper hydration work. First, try to equal your coffee/Monster/RockStar/Redbull/Mountain Dew, etc., intake with your water intake. As much as caffeine gives you that kick, it also dehydrates you and this will make your sleepy! Try getting a one-to-two liter reusable container. I prefer the kind you can sticker up to highlight past travel jobs. Drink two of these per shift. You will notice the difference, I’m telling you. And if nothing else you will be getting up for more bathroom trips, which will definitely keep you moving!
2. Avoid late-shift caffeine. This is so important because the last thing you need is to stay wide awake once you’re off work--especially if you work again the next night. Limit your caffeinated beverages to the first two-thirds of your shift. Stick to strictly water in those closing hours. I know what you are thinking, and, yes, some things are permissible! I was known to partake in morning happy hour and breakfast with many a co-worker post shift. Let’s be honest: who doesn’t sleep well with a full belly and one or two craft brews?
3. Stick to a schedule. If you work the next night, don’t stretch out your fun for too long; get your hours of sleep in. I always made sure to get at least 7 hours of sleep in each night no matter if I went to bed at 10 pm or 10 am. It’s what your body needs. Also, watch your with medications. I am cursed with a lazy thyroid that requires daily medication. My “morning” switched depending on my day-to-day schedule. I decided (with some professional guidance of course) that I would take my morning pills when I woke up, no matter the time!
4. Bundle. No, I’m not talking about a package of services that helps lower your cable, internet or cellphone bill; I’m talking about bundling your nursing shifts together, if possible. Working your three 12-hour shifts in a row will help you develop a sleeping pattern and is much, much easier on your body. Switching from days to nights can be rough, so figure out what works for you. If you are up a lot during days off, you may want to take a nap prior to your first night shift. And if you’re a nurse traveler, this three-days-on, four-days-off schedule will help you get out and experience all the awesome stuff there is to see and do in your new community.
If you’re new to night shifts, these are just a few things you can do to survive and power through those long nights. Veteran night shift nurses are often willing to share their tips, so be sure to ask. And if you’re a “Days Only” type of nurse, don’t let the opportunity of a great travel nursing job that requires nights pass you by just because you’re not willing to try something new. Think of it as a short-term chance to make some life-long memories in an exciting new place. You’re getting paid to travel and do the work you love. Sleep on that thought, and then get in touch with a recruiter.
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