Tips for Surviving the Night Shift

The night shift…someone has to do it, but that doesn’t mean it’s anyone’s first choice of schedule. Whether you’re stuck with your first night shifts and aren’t sure how you’re going to make it through or you’re a veteran night-shifter looking for some new ways to stay alert and survive the night, here are some tried and true tips from nurses who’ve been in your shoes. 

Eat and drink smart to stay awake

Besides relying on your caffeinated drink of choice, drink a ton of water so there’s no chance of dehydration making you more tired than you need to be. Coffee and other caffeinated drinks are definitely essential, but also be careful to use them properly so you don’t end up fading when they wear off. If you’re getting tired, chew gum or eat licorice; the intense flavors are great for a boost of focus and energy, plus the act of chewing itself keeps your body a bit more awake. And plan your “dinner” time for around 1 a.m., or whenever you might start really dragging during the shift. Pick snacks that give a good healthy energy boost, things with plenty of protein are good picks. The “grazing method” of small snacks throughout the shift can be another good way to continuously get a bit more energy.

Keep moving

Even if you’re on a slow shift or are working on desk work, get up and move often. Walk around the building or your station. If you need to wake up even more, do lunges or other simple exercises up and down the hallway or at your workstation.

Make sure you’ll make it home safely

Before getting in a car to drive home (if you are driving yourself), be sure that you’re completely awake and safe to make it all the way back. If you have any doubt, there’s no harm in taking a fifteen-minute nap in your car to recharge enough to get home safely. If you think you’re safe to drive but still want to be sure to stay alert, there are plenty of classic ways to do so–blast music, keep the windows down, and keep chewing gum or eating licorice. 

Find ways to keep your mind active on the job

Typically night shifts are the busier or more demanding times to work, but if you’re on a slow shift or location, finding good ways to keep your mind busy or fun ways to fill breaks is a good idea. Obviously talking to other coworkers on the same shift is the easiest and best way to stay up and get some more enjoyment out of work. But if you want to fill some time in other ways, read for a bit, catch up on work-related news or projects, or listen to music quietly at your station even while working (if you can). 

Find a smart sleep cycle

Of course, when working nights sleeping during the day is not only helpful but necessary. If you find it hard to get enough sleep during daytime hours, invest in blackout curtains or an eye mask to block out the light (which can be hard to adjust to). Be sure to find time during the day when you’ll be able to have a quiet house or bedroom to get enough sleep to survive the next night. And if you can, be smart about grouping shifts–try to work 2-3 night shifts in a row, then sleep as much as possible in between them and flip your sleep schedule on your days off. 


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