Nurse resting on sofa with alarm clock
Travel Nursing Updated December 8, 2023

By Megan Krischke, contributor

Ways To Prepare For Night-Shift Nursing

If you are taking a night-shift nursing position for the first time, you may feel a bit anxious –wondering how it will work and how to prepare.

First, be reassured that many nurses love working the night shift, as it tends to be a bit quieter and less “political” because management usually works the day shift.

Switching to nights does require some preparation, however, so we’ve put together these tried-and-true tips to help ease your transition and learn how to adjust to night-shift nursing.

Ways To Prep For Night-Shift Nursing

1. Analyze Your Current Schedule

Before changing to night-shift nursing, consider your current habits. How many hours do you sleep? At what intervals do you eat? Do you like to have some time to yourself before you go to work? How long does it take you to wind down after work?

Start with your answers to these questions and then translate them into your new work schedule. Be careful to schedule your sleep and guard it.

It may be tempting to meet friends for lunch or go to your first grader’s class party, but when you were working day shifts you probably didn’t get up at 2 a.m. to socialize — so don’t do it when you work night shifts, either.

2. Prepare Your Home, and Your Housemates

You may not be the only one learning how to adjust to night-shift nursing; anyone else living in your home will be affected by your new schedule, as well.

Plan to post your work and sleep schedule where family members or roommates can easily see when you are trying to sleep and when they can expect to see you.

Try to find a daily meal you can share, whether that is eating breakfast together when you get home from your night shift, or a more traditional dinner before you leave for work.

Night-shift nurses will need to create a dark and quiet place to sleep during the days. Blackout curtains can help. There are also white noise apps for your phone, which have a variety of sound options that can help lull you to sleep.

If your bedroom isn’t ideal, consider nontraditional rooms for sleeping, even a large walk-in closet. Any room that doesn’t have windows or can black out the light and is separated from the louder/high-traffic parts of the house could work.

Or get creative! Some night-shift nurses have even opted for bed tents to create a darkened, secluded sleep space.

3. Plan Your Schedule Over the Course of a Week

In preparation for your new shift schedule, “the ideal thing would be to work a shift in the direction of starting later. You want to avoid a shift that forces you to go to sleep earlier than usual,” remarked Rafael Pelayo, MD, a sleep specialist at the Stanford Sleep Medicine Center. “You also want to keep your off-day sleep schedule as close as possible to your work schedule.”

While sleeping at the same time every day may be ideal, it may not be realistic.

Veterans of night-shift nursing recommend grouping your shifts together on consecutive nights, if possible. Then after your last night shift of the week, try going to sleep at the regular time but get up in the early afternoon and stay active until a more normal bedtime.

This should put you on a normal sleep schedule for the next few days. Then on your last free evening, stay up as late as possible, sleep in and maybe even take a 1-2 hour nap before your first night shift.

Stay open to experimenting until you find something that works for you.

4. Shed Some Light on Your Wake-Up Times

If you are waking up for your night shift while it is still light out, throw open the curtains and take a few minutes to stretch your body. Light plays a significant role in telling our bodies when to sleep and wake.

If you are waking in the dark, consider investing in a wake-up light that gradually increases the light in your room before the alarm sounds.

5. Make Wise Choices

“I would stress to never drive home if you are feeling sleepy at the end of the shift,” urged Pelayo.

It’s just not worth it. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that more than 100,000 accidents are caused by drowsy driving annually.

Give some thought to how you are caring for yourself during your night shifts, as well.If you can’t find a lot of healthy food available during your odd working hours, pack a variety of fruits, vegetables and high-protein snacks to take with you and sustain your energy over your shift.

Then consider using your breaks either to take 15-20 minute power naps or to do a quick cardiovascular activity such as running stairs to pump up your heart rate and increase your energy.

6. Stock up on nutrient-rich foods and H2O

Working the night shift means you can’t count on that natural foods spot around the corner is open during your mealtime; you’re going to have to bring more of your meals and snacks to work if you want to eat right. So stock up on nutrient-rich foods to stay healthy and energized.

Whip up a healthy smoothie to take with you to the hospital. Snack on fresh fruit, fresh vegetables and hummus, or a handful or nuts. Pack simple, balanced meals full of lean protein, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Filling up on the “good stuff” will help you keep sweets and fatty foods to a minimum. It’s also vital to drink plenty of water throughout your shifts. Proper hydration will help you maintain your energy level and feel less hungry.

7. Arrive Early and Take Time to Organize Yourself

Carter says nurses should arrive at least 10 minutes early to avoid rushing as they begin their shift. When possible, she says to do walking rounds with the day shift nurse before they leave so you can ask questions about specific cases and ensure a seamless transition between shifts.

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