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Nurse First News Blog

5 Ways to Make it Through Your First Night Shift as a Nurse

Posted March 29, 2021

You decided to take on the fun adventures as a night shift nurse! You’ll love the many perks of the night shift. But, it does come with a few adjustments and the biggest one is your sleep schedule. Changing your sleep schedule may feel like a daunting task, but it’s possible! You can make this change and do so successfully. In no time this new routine will feel like second nature. There are some pro tips to follow to make sure this transition goes as smoothly as possible. Let’s walk through the 5 ways you can nail your first night shift as a nurse – awake, thriving, and energized!

Sleep Schedule

young woman sleeping in her bed with an eye mask and covers over her mouth.

This is the mother ship right here. The key that will either make or break your first-night shift experience. The trick to accomplishing this is to change your sleep atmosphere to resemble what it would be at night. You might think this is a ridiculous feat. How in the world can you make the middle of the day feel like the middle of the night? It’s actually much easier than you might imagine. Use every possible tool you can to set the appropriate setting for sleep. According to Sandra Crawley (RN, BSN) and medical contributor for MomLovesBest, she recommends investing in blackout curtains, sleep masks, and white noise machines to block out distractions. Another game-changer is high-quality bedding and pillows to ensure a comfortable and restful sleep. (Sandra Crawley, nursejournal.org)

“Try to get a schedule so you can get enough sleep. Tell people not to call between those hours or shut your ringer off on your phone.” – Melissa B. (chamberlain.edu)

Along with setting the stage for a perfect sleep environment, make sure you have a solid routine down. Don’t fluctuate your schedule too much or else it will mess with the new sleep cycle you’re trying to create. For example, let’s say when you are working night shifts you go to sleep at 11:00 am and wake up at 7:00 pm. Be sure to stick with that schedule every time! Avoid adjusting your schedule, it will make the transition go much smoother. Your body will start to adapt to this sleep/wake cycle. During those long nights, you’ll be grateful you stayed consistent.

Go Easy on the Caffeine

upclose of woman sipping coffee out of her mug

You might think, “Hey, I’ve got this. I lived on caffeine during college, I’ll do the same during my night shifts!” Wrong. In fact, this is the opposite approach you should take. Caffeine provides a short boost of energy, but you can guarantee that a crash is coming shortly after. If you must have your daily coffee or soda try to limit it to one and then switch to water or caffeine-free tea. The last thing you need is an exhausted body and a mind that is going 100 mph.

“Drink lots of water because then you won’t have time to be sleepy.” – Beth M. (chamberlain.edu)

To avoid running to the coffee machine during your shift, bring your own bottle of water. As soon as you feel your energy levels start to plummet, take a big chug of water. “Many studies have shown that dehydration lowers athletic performance, making you feel sluggish and off your game. It can also cause you to feel tired or sleepy, so if you’re getting enough sleep but can’t keep your eyes open, you may need to just up your water intake.” (Caroline Roberts, cnnet.com) We all know that your shift can feel like an athletic performance. Keep your water close by for an extra boost of energy.

Pack a Snack

upclose of a woman holding a bowl of fruit and yogurt with her spoon in hand

As a busy nurse, it can be difficult to find the time to step away and eat. That’s why it’s especially important to pack a variety of snacks to give you energy. Some great go-to options are cottage cheese, nuts, fruit, trail mix, and hard-boiled eggs. These snacks are great to keep you going and will help you stay full longer.

“Hydrate! Try to eat your full meals before work and get by with something light during the shift (salad, oatmeal, etc.) then no caffeine after midnight!” – Shannon J. (chamberlain.edu)

The key is to make sure you step away and take advantage of the snacks you packed. Being hungry and tired is not a good mix. Take care of yourself. The positive effects will trickle down to your patients and fellow nurses too!

Power Nap

male sleeping on his side at night in the dark with the moonlight shining through his room

A 20-30 minute power nap during your shift can do wonders. But, it can be a tricky little game to play. If you find that these power naps, in fact, do the opposite of energizing you, stop them! The last thing you need is to feel lethargic and even more tired than before.

“Get a sign for your door that says don’t knock, night nurse sleeping!’” – Ashlie R. (chamberlain.edu)

If the power naps work for you, then find a quiet and dark area on your floor to quick rest. Be sure to set an alarm so you don’t oversleep. If you need to create a sleep sanctuary, bring a sleep mask and noise-canceling headphones. You only have a short time to get the most out of your nap, make sure the mood is right!

Take Advantage of Spare Time

night shift NICU nurse smiling and holding a newborn baby

The night shift tends to be much calmer and slower-paced. This is a great opportunity for you to create stronger relationships with your fellow nurses. Along with that, you can form deeper connections with your patients. 

“Straight nights has been way better. And I get to see my kids and family more!” – Stephanie K (chamberlain.edu)

You’ll soon notice that night shift nurses often need to rely on each other for guidance. There are fewer doctors and staff around at night to assist. The night shift will build even more confidence in you as a nurse. Take these calmer nights as a blessing.


As a night shift nurse, you’ll find your rhythm, especially if you use the 5 tips listed above. The night shift is an awesome way to hone in on your nursing skills. Don’t fear your first night shift! You have all the tools you need to create a new routine and thrive while doing so!

Resources:

https://nursejournal.org/tips-for-surviving-your-first-night-shift/
https://www.chamberlain.edu/blog/5-tips-for-the-new-night-shift-nurse
https://www.cnet.com/health/7-ways-drinking-more-water-can-make-you-healthier/
https://woodruffmedical.edu/tips-for-surviving-your-first-night-shift/

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