How Do I Survive Night Shifts as a New Nurse?

Trying to survive night shifts as a new nurse is one of the most difficult things you may have to do. It is a skill that takes practice and strategy. Some people are more naturally accustomed to the night shift than others, but most people can make a night shift schedule work for them by following some general guidelines.

Getting Enough Sleep

Getting proper sleep is the hardest part of working a night shift. When you stay up all night, you are working against your body’s natural circadian rhythm that prompts you to go to sleep when it is dark and be active during the day. If you do not take the necessary precautions to get proper sleep while working night shifts then you can end up with shift work sleep disorder. According to WebMD, it is not uncommon for night shift workers to end up with this disorder.

While you are working your night shift, the best thing you can do is stay away from caffeine. The stimulant can prevent you from getting proper sleep once your shift ends, and over the long term it does nothing to help your body adjust to the nighttime work schedule. By the same token, you should avoid sleep aides when you get off work. Relying on sleep aides can cover up a serious sleep disorder and lead to other problems, including making your body more unable to go to sleep naturally. Many sleep aides also have dependency issues.

When you do get home, it is important to get the sleep you need in the same proportion as you would get if you worked during the day. This means getting a full eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. In your plan for getting this sleep, you should include a dark room where you will not be disturbed. It may be beneficial to use a facemask and earplugs if daytime noises and light are waking you up. One nice trick is to avoid sun exposure because sunlight prompts your body to be awake. Go immediately from work to bed and don’t spend a lot of time outside. This requires an agreement with family members not to disturb you. You should also, as tempting as it may be, not get caught up in chores or spending time with family members before sleeping.

Family Time

Getting the right amount of time with family members can be especially difficult for a new nurse working the night shift. It is likely that your family will be on a normal schedule, so they will be getting up about the time you should be going to bed, and they will be going to bed about the time you leave for work.

The best thing you can do to ensure quality family time, according to an article in US News & World Report, is make a plan. Have set times right when you get home, or preferably before you leave for work, when you can have some family time. It is important to deliberately plan time to sit down and talk or enjoy a favorite activity at least a few times a week.

A message board can also be a great way to keep in touch with family. This allows you to communicate consistently even when face time is not an option.

Your health is the most important thing to watch. Many medical professionals come to enjoy the night shift. It doesn’t happen right away, but with time and strategies for staying healthy like those described here, you can survive night shifts as a new nurse.

Additional Reading: How Should I Prepare for My First Interview for a Nursing Position?