EP 83: How to Function as a Night Shift Nurse

EP 83: How to Function as a Night Shift Nurse

EP 83: Transitioning From Night Shift to Days

Have you ever wondered how it feels to work as a night shift nurse or how people transition from working nights to days? We will explain how to transition from a normal schedule to working at night. We want to help optimize your schedule, sleep, and eating so that the night shift doesn’t destroy you. 

Night Shift Nurses

One of the most difficult careers out there is nursing. Nursing is similar to all medical careers in that it is a 24-hour job. This means people are working all around the clock. 24-hour careers require a certain amount of people to work the night shift. 

The hardest part about working as a night shift nurse is the transition over to it. We are not nocturnal animals. We are meant to be awake during the day and asleep at night. Our circadian rhythms are programmed under the awake during the day and sleep during the night cycle. The key to being able to work the night shift is having a proper schedule during your shift and outside. The transition between nights and days is what most people seem to find the hardest. 

Here are some tips on how to have better night shift transitions.

Your Schedule

How do you like to line up your work schedule? Different nurses have different schedules when trying to work the night shift. There are only so many nights a nurse can work in a row.

  • 3 in a row: There are a lot of nurses that work 3 in a row and then are off for the next couple. This is good because you are not transitioning from night to day as often. It is hard to do because the quality of life between shifts isn’t very high. In between shifts, you won’t have much time for anything besides eating and sleeping. 
  • Every other day: There are nurses out there that enjoy working every other day. This gives you room in between shifts to recover and take care of errands. 
  • 2 on 1 off: the most common one for nurses is to work 2 shifts in a row and then their third shift another night in the week. It is hard to do 3 in a row, and some nurses rather just do 2. You aren’t transitioning back and forth as much as every other, and it still allows you to do stuff in between shifts. 

Your Sleep 

Your sleep-wake cycle is going to be changing a lot when working the night shift. The biggest struggle for night shift nurses is getting enough sleep and not feeling tired. 

  • Aim to get at least 8 hours of sleep.
      • Some people can function with less, if you can get away with 6 then work on 6. You need to find out what your minimum is. There is going to be a difference between how much sleep you’ll need between shifts vs your off days. 
  • Take a nap before work
      • If you are a night owl you won’t need as big of a nap prior to working. The typical morning owl working the night shift is going to most likely need a long nap. Believe it or not, there are different nap times and their benefits. 
        • Power nap: 10-20 min, energizing nap. Good for when you are feeling a little drowsy
        • Short-term nap: 30-60 min. The body begins to enter deep sleep. This can help with memory but it takes about an hour to be fully alert again.
        • REM nap: 90 min, equal to about 1 sleep cycle. Shown to help with memory and learning new skills. 
      • The nap you should take depends on how you feel. A good idea is to wake up at least 2 hours before the tour shift, especially if you are taking a long nap. 
  • When to sleep
    • When you are coming off your shift and have to be up for another, it is always wise to shower and go to bed. You shouldn’t be running any errands. Most of the time, you will be exhausted after your shift; there’s no need to tire yourself out even more. 
      • Sometimes nurses have trouble falling asleep after a night shift. They have the energy to expel because, naturally, their body is telling them to wake up. After all, the sun is out. If you have a hard time falling asleep after you get off a night shift, do something simple that can burn that energy. Going to the gym or going on a run for a few minutes helps most nurses. 
    • When you are coming off your shift, and you’re off the next day, there are a few options you can take. It will depend on under which one you can function best and on how many days off you have.
      • 1. Going directly to sleep: most nurses choose this route. They go to bed after their shift and wake up later on at night as if they would be going to work. They start their day off that way. The negative part is that you’ve slept the day away but it doesn’t mean you can do anything else. Most of the time nurses focus on little tasks that can be done quickly or at home to be productive on their first day off. You’d be usually awake from about 7 pm until midnight or 1 am. You don’t want to stay up too late because you want to continue onto a dayshift schedule the next day. 
      • 2. Staying up all day: Some nurses choose to stay up the whole day and then go to bed early. This is the hardest route to take but probably the most effective if you are trying to transition back into days quickly. Nurses that choose this route stay up all day and then usually go to bed early. 
      • 3. Staying up than napping: Another route is to stay up for a few hours take a nap and continue the rest of the day. Some nurses transition by getting off shift at 7 pm running a few errands then taking a nap around noon for a few hours, waking up, and continuing their day. 
      • 4. Napping after the shift: A good amount of nurses also get off work take a small nap and continue their day. There are a lot of nurses that do this and it helps with transitioning to days while still being productive throughout the day.
    • Sleeping environment
      • As night shift nurses we sleep during the day. To get the quality sleep you need to sleep in a dark room. Light inhibits melatonin production and it will make it hardware for you to fall asleep.

Your Nutrition

A night shift nurse is forever a snack nurse. Nurses love to snack on the night shift. Studies have shown that a disruption in the circadian rhythm that is associated with the night shift causes us to crave calorie-dense carbs, sugary food, and salty snacks.

Sometimes the thing that is making your nightshift life hard is the foods you eat. We know that high sugar and high carb foods are associated with insulin spikes leading to spikes in energy. These peaks and troughs may be putting a toll on your body.  Make sure to optimize your nutrition.

  • Eating schedule
      • When is the best time to eat? Unfortunately eating food at night is never ideal so there really is no best time at night to eat. It will depend on your schedule. Since your body is created to be eaten at night it won’t depend so much on the time that you eat but it will depend on what you eat. Make sure to always eat a meal prior to going to work, ideal 2 or 3 hours prior.
        • Intermittent fasting: intermittent fasting has been shown to have many benefits and as a nurse, you can still get away with doing it. It isn’t for everyone but it can help with your transitioning. If you work better when you have a set schedule this may be good for you but pick a time that you don’t need to flip between on your off days. For example, fasting from midnight until 4 pm may not work for you because you won’t have much time to eat at work but noon until 4 am won’t work on your days off. 
        • Big meals vs small: some people prefer to have frequent smaller meals throughout their shift. This can help them stay awake as well as increase energy. The drawback is that you will need to make time for eating more often. Some nurses eat one or 2 larger meals at work. This is good because it will keep you full longer so you aren’t always picking at your food, however, most people do feel more tired after a larger meal. 
        • Always eat before work: Make sure to always eat a meal before coming to work so you aren’t hungry or thinking about food right away. 
  • What to eat
    • The first thing you need to do when you are struggling with the night shift is to cut down on sugary snacks. They taste good and might wake you up a bit but they’ll make you more tired when you crash. Dieting is completely doable while working nights, you don’t need to sacrifice your diet but you still need to stick to it. 
    • Eat foods that make you feel fuller longer, many times these will be foods that are high in protein. 
    • There is no secret food to help you with working nightshift, you need to find what works for you. The key thing is to eat healthily. 
    • Bring healthy snacks. You will have the urge to snack, that is why it is important to bring your own healthy snacks. 
    • This goes for outside of work as well. Maintain a healthy diet in and out of work. Your body will need optimal nutrition especially when it is put in suboptimal situations like working nightshift. If you have a well-balanced eating structure your body will be better at taking on the stress associated with nightshift. 
  • Drink plenty of water
    • As a night shift nurse, dehydration will make you feel tired and depleted. Make sure you drink plenty of water and use the bathroom. 
  • Caffeine
    • Caffeine is a drug and there is a proper way to use it. You do not want to be over-caffeinated because that just leads to a giant crash. Drink coffee or an energy drink with a purpose. The onset of action for caffeine is about 1 hour and lasts about 3-4 hours. Plan to drink your coffee accordingly and in appropriate amounts. 

Recovering From Night Shift

Recovering from your nights is just as important as working. Make sure to have a routine on your off days. Get some exercise and make healthy food choices. Your body’s life consistency and any aspect that you are consistent with will help with working nights. Plan out days for yourself, and be mindful of how much you are working and when you are burnt out. The better you are at having consistency the better outcomes you will have with working nights. 

Transition as a night shift nurse easily. Watch this full episode here 👇


00:00 – Intro
00:30 – California weather
01:22 – Transitioning from Night Shift to Day Schedules
02:57 – A morning person
04:06 – The night shift makes you sleep more
04:57 – Are morning people more disciplined?
07:00 – Consider your schedule when transitioning
11:05 – Meal prepping matters
12:20 – Sleep-wake cycles
12:37 – Aim for 8 hours of sleep and take naps
24:07 – Get proper nutrition during your shifts
25:57 – Snacks make the shifts a lot better
27:50 – Post-surgery bowel movement (Pete’s)
30:20 – Choose healthy snacks
34:28 – Everything must be on a schedule
35:44 – End of show