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  • Writer's pictureKamri Morris

Surviving Night Shift

Most nurses that are new to a floor, start on night shift, it’s the hierarchy of the nursing society. On the contrary, some nurses enjoy night shift... whether it’s due to their co-workers or best for their family situations, it definitely takes some survival instincts.

I worked as a night shift nurse for almost three years before making the switch to an 8am-5pm job. I have had my fair share of struggles on night shift, but without a doubt I wouldn't have traded those experiences for the world. When given the opportunity to move to a day-shift Labor & Delivery position, I actually turned it down. Below you will find my tips for surviving night shift, to ensure we keep you going ALL NIGHT LONG *in my Lionel Ritchie voice*

Choose Healthy Snacks

Night shift is when you gain your "Freshman Fifteen" all over again! Eating to stay awake, eating to pass the time, eating the snacks the patient's bring, rummaging through the patient's snack room, you name it, we'll eat it. I strongly advise that you make peace with healthy snacking, you can consume a lot of calories in twelve hours.

Bring your lunch, the easiest way to fall into a trap is by raiding the vending machines at night! Trust me, me and honeybuns have had a few special nights together. Try to bring filling protein snacks without all of the carbs: cheese, almonds, protein bars. You can never go wrong with ziploc baggies of fruits and veggies. You would hate to end your first year of night shift on an episode of "My 600-lb Life."

Create Your Own Circadian Rhythm

Sorry to break it to you, but there is nothing normal about night shift. Your typical circadian rhythm responds to light and darkness within your environment; the total opposite of what's expected from you on a night shift. My best suggestion is to create your own rhythm, decide your best sleep/wake pattern and stick to it.

For my first year of nursing, I was pretty much nocturnal. I slept between the hours of 9am-5pm, and worked from 7pm-7am. I followed this schedule even on my days off to ensure I had no interruption in my routine. This worked well living alone, but the real challenge is adapting to living with someone who doesn't work night shift. Once I realized that 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep was nearly impossible with someone else in my household, I quickly adapted. I began scheduling my three shifts in a row, and would attempt to live a "normal life" on my days off. I slept from about 11pm-7am on my nights off; on my first of three nights I would nap from about noon-5pm. The next two days I would attempt to sleep from 9am-5pm (usually an epic fail).

You have to do what's best for you in regard to a sleep schedule. I can wholeheartedly say: living alone and working nights was my best solution. Not everyone else understands (or respects) your schedule or why somedays you spend all day sleeping to recuperate. Unfortunately you won't make it to every one of your kid's PTA meeting or every friend's birthday, you have to weigh the pros and cons of losing sleep. This brings me to my next point... Invest in a sleep arsenal.

Sleep Arsenal

You have to be adequately prepared to sleep well on night shift, it doesn't come easy. Tuck a few of these away in your arsenal.

- Black Out Curtains


-Sleep Mask

-Benadryl (when Melatonin just isn't strong enough)

-Ear Plugs

*TIP: Stop drinking caffeine at least 6 hours prior to your bedtime*

Make Friends at Work

What honestly kept me on nights for so long? My amazing co-workers. The crew of co-workers you have can make or break your shift. My co-workers (now some of my greatest friends) were supportive, helpful, and dependable without a doubt. Staying awake for 13/14 hours is hard enough without being bored out of your skull, these friends you make will keep you sane in the midst of total chaos (or boredom). Sitting at your computer or in your pod alone, in silence will surely make your job a little less enjoyable.

Know Your Limits

Nursing is exhausting, sleep deprivation doesn't make it any better. The one thing almost as dangerous as drinking and driving, is driving while sleepy. We had a co-worker fall asleep while driving her daughter to school after a long night of work. That's a scary situation that any night shifter could find themselves in; you may think it can't happen to you but I'm here to tell you it's possible.

  • An estimated 1 in 25 adult drivers (aged 18 or older) report having fallen asleep while driving in the previous 30 days.

  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsy driving was responsible for 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries, and 800 deaths in 2013. However, these numbers are underestimated, and up to 6,000 fatal crashes each year may be caused by drowsy drivers.

Before driving after work, assess your alertness:

-Find yourself a phone buddy to talk to on your way home

-Drink ice water while driving

-Roll your windows down or turn your A/C on

-Find you some good tunes to sing along to

If you find yourself dozing off or you feel too tired to drive, remember an Uber is cheaper than losing your life or putting someone else's life in jeopardy.

Have anymore tips for night shifters? Drop them in the comments below!

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