Tips for the night shift nurse (2023)

Shift work generally refers to "any work schedule that falls outside of the 7am and 6pm hours," according to the Sleep Foundation. A 2019 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report found that about 16% of U.S. workers work some form of shift work, including 4% who work night shifts (11 p.m. or longer).

Night shifts are particularly prevalent in healthcare, reflecting the need to provide around-the-clock medical care. Since nurses provide primary care for many patients - especially in areas with a shortage of doctors - it is particularly important that they work the night shift.

Nursing on the night shift can be challenging and pose potential health risks. Non-traditional hours can disrupt the body's natural circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle), a disruption that can lead to other negative health effects, such as:

  • sleep deprivation and fatigue
  • mood swings
  • Bad eating habits
  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular diseases, including heart attack and stroke

Nurses can use a variety of strategies to manage the risks and rigors of night work, from self-care to adopting healthy eating habits. If caregivers mitigate or avoid the potentially adverse health effects of this type of work, there can be many benefits to working the night shift.

What do night shift nurses do?

Night work in healthcare ensures continuity of care. As the country's largest healthcare profession -- with more than 4 million employees nationwide, according to the BLS -- nurses are essential to providing 24-hour patient care.

Nurses of all positions work the night shift, from nurses to qualified nurses. Night shift nurses work in all healthcare facilities where patients stay overnight, including hospitals, nursing homes, and long-term care facilities.

Night shift nurse duties depend on the specific environment in which they work, but are not significantly different from day shift nurse duties. Your job description includes:

  • Provision and coordination of patient care
  • Conducting diagnostic tests
  • give medicine
  • operation and monitoring of medical devices

Although the basic functions of a nurse are virtually the same regardless of shift, the way they are performed can vary. For example, nurses sometimes spend more time with patients during the night shift than during the day when they have many different duties beyond direct patient care.

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As with other nursing duties, a night shift nurse's hours can vary from 8 hours to 10 to 12 hours. A typical night shift can start as early as 7 p.m. at 23:00 depending on the length of the shift. Nurses who work longer shifts often have a three to four day workweek.

The main difference between night shift nursing and other nursing shifts is that the pace tends to be slower and the environment is a bit quieter. Doctors typically perform tests and procedures during the day, and patients typically rest at night. This often allows nurses to complete their duties with minimal disruption, making the night shift an ideal option for nurses just starting out in their careers.

Night shift care vs. day shift

Those who aspire to a career in nursing must weigh the pros and cons of working night shifts versus day shift nursing. Some people are better suited to one or the other, while others like the variety of working both shifts. Deciding which is the right choice often depends on a person's lifestyle, work environment, and career goals.

day care workers

Day care can provide numerous benefits, including regular sleep habits and skill development.

More traditional schedule

The hours of the day shift better align with the body's natural sleep cycle. Caregivers who work during the day generally don't need to adjust their sleeping and waking habits to fit this schedule. As a result, day shift caregivers can feel more rested and energized to carry out their work.

more quickly

Because more testing, procedures, and other patient-centric tasks are performed during the day, day-shift nurses generally experience a busier work environment than their night-shift counterparts.They usually have more work to do during their shift, which makes time pass quickly.

learning opportunities

Day shift nurses typically work with a more diverse group of healthcare professionals, such as physicians and surgeons, which gives them the opportunity to learn about different aspects of healthcare. By observing and collaborating with physicians and other key medical workers, nurses can learn skills related to making diagnoses and improving patient care.

Disadvantages of day shift care

While working the day shift has its perks, it also has some potential downsides.

very busy

While the dynamic nature of day care offers a faster pace and greater learning opportunities, it can cause more stress for caregivers. Those who work the day shift are often pulled in different directions and struggle to complete a variety of tasks for their patients and supervisors. This can be challenging, especially for less experienced caregivers.

more interruptions

Day shift nurses are more prone to distractions and interruptions. Patients, supervisors and colleagues often take up your time; this sometimes makes it difficult to get things done quickly.

Less quality time with patients

Nurses generally have more direct contact with patients during the day than at night when many are asleep. However, the nature of these interactions can be less than ideal due to the fast pace of their daily work, making it difficult for them to meet patients.

Nurses on the night shift

Night shift nursing offers many potential benefits.

slower speed

While there is usually more activity during the day, this does not mean that caregivers are less busy at night. Night shift nurses generally enjoy a quieter work environment with fewer distractions and interruptions; This can make it easier to get tasks done in a timely manner and free up time for things like reviewing medical records.

Night shifts can be appropriate for new nurses—who are typically assigned night shifts and rotating shifts based on seniority—as there is more time to learn and settle into the job.

highest salary

Because of the atypical working hours, many organizations pay nurses working night shifts at a higher rate than nurses working day shifts. According to the BLS, nearly 15% of US workers across all occupations who worked the night shift cited "better pay" as the primary reason for their choice.

(Video) Tips for Transitioning to Night Shift

greater camaraderie

Night shift nurses typically have more time to get to know their colleagues. This can create a positive work environment and improve morale, leading to greater job satisfaction. It can also improve teamwork, which helps caregivers do their jobs more efficiently.

Night Shift Nursing Disadvantages

While there can be many benefits, working the night shift can also have its downsides.

unusual hours

Night shifts require caregivers to work unconventional hours, which can make it difficult to maintain an optimal work-life balance. It can affect your ability to participate in social activities with family and friends, or even run errands.

impaired sleep

Working the night shift can disrupt the body's natural sleep-wake cycle. This can lead to insomnia, fatigue, and other chronic conditions like shift work disorders. These issues can, in turn, contribute to other adverse health effects that can ultimately affect a nurse's job performance and her ability to provide quality care to patients.

Tips for working the night shift as a nurse

Working the night shift can be challenging, especially for inexperienced nurses who are new to shift work. One of the main problems associated with breastfeeding at night is that it can disrupt the body's circadian rhythm.

The circadian rhythm is linked to the body's sleep-wake cycle. In addition to sleep, it plays a role in regulating other important biological processes such as heart rate, digestion, and body temperature. Environmental cues, especially mild ones, can affect circadian rhythms; That is why it is closely related to the day-night cycle.

Shift workers run the risk of disrupting this natural cycle, potentially leading to a range of health problems. One of the most prominent disorders associated with night shift work is shift work disorder: a circadian rhythm sleep disorder that causes insomnia and/or excessive daytime sleepiness. This can impair a caregiver's judgment and cognitive functions, leading to errors and negatively affecting mood.

Night shift work and the strain it places on a caregiver's physical and mental health can also contribute to burnout, a common problem for caregivers that has been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. A survey by Mental Health America found that 76% of healthcare professionals reported feeling exhausted and burned out during the pandemic.

Nurses can follow many different strategies and tips for working the night shift to counteract these potential risks.

Develop healthy sleeping habits

More often than not, nurses need to sleep on night shifts while the sun comes up, which can be challenging. Maintaining a consistent sleep routine and going to bed at the same time every day—even on days off—can help caregivers adjust to an atypical sleep cycle and ensure they get enough rest.

In addition, caregivers can adopt several habits that contribute to healthy sleep hygiene, namely:

  • Use a sleep mask or blackout curtains to block out natural light.
  • Take a warm bath before bed.
  • meditate
  • Use earplugs or a white noise device to drown out distracting noises.

Brief naps during breaks during a long night shift (10+ hours) can also help nurses be well-rested for work.

Make time for family and friends

Night nursing can also negatively impact work-life balance, as it requires nurses to work while the rest of the world is sleeping and rest during the day when everyone else is awake. This can prevent nurses from participating in important life events and engaging in social activities with family and friends. By scheduling quality time with loved ones on their days off, nurses can ensure they aren't sacrificing their social life for work.

Where possible, caregivers may combine longer night shifts — for example, three 12-hour days in a row — to allow for longer time off to spend time with family and friends.


Support for night shift nurses

Healthcare organizations play an important role in supporting nurses who work night shifts. In addition to the possible physical and psychological damage to nursing staff, irregular working hours and excessively long shifts are associated with an increased risk of errors in patient care.

To address these issues, organizations can employ several strategies to create a healthy and safe work environment for night nurses:

  • Improve the design of work schedules to avoid long shifts (12 hours) and insufficient breaks between shifts.
  • Provide caregivers with a consistent, predictable schedule that allows them to plan sleep and off-work activities and responsibilities in advance.
  • Allow nurses to have some control over their own schedule; this can help them adapt better to night work.
  • Encourage breaks during shifts and encourage naps for those who work shifts longer than eight hours.
  • Conduct periodic assessments to examine the impact of work schedules on employee well-being and performance.

How to work the night shift and stay healthy

Night work poses a risk to other aspects of the health and well-being of caregivers. Altered circadian rhythms caused by night-shift breastfeeding can alter dietary habits and nutrient levels, and potentially adversely affect health. Lack of sleep, along with the inherent rigors of work, can lead to fatigue and affect a nurse's mental and emotional health.

Caregivers can counteract these problems and learn to work the night shift and stay healthy by using some simple strategies.

Nutrition for Nurses

Working a night shift can affect a nurse's dietary and eating habits, while changes in circadian rhythm can affect a number of biological processes related to nutrition and metabolism. Consequently, night work is associated with various diet-related health problems such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

A few simple tips can help improve caregiver nutrition and mitigate some of the potentially negative health effects of working the night shift.

Eat lighter and smaller

Nurses should eat lighter, healthier meals and snacks — like fruits and vegetables, nuts, eggs, and salads — to boost their energy throughout their work shift. Foods high in fat or sugar and carbohydrates can cause fatigue and provide bursts of energy that make it difficult to work through the night.

Creating a grocery list that focuses on low-fat and low-sugar foods and preparing meals early in the workweek can make it easier for caregivers to practice healthier eating habits. Prepared meals can make the time leading up to a shift more relaxing and less likely to buy groceries from vending machines or in hospital canteens – where groceries tend to be less healthy.

Develop healthy eating habits

Almost as important as what nurses eat is when they eat. Ideally, caregivers should have their main meal before work. A 2019 study found that eating a large meal during the night shift increases sleepiness and contributes to decreased cognitive performance.

drink enough

(Video) Tips for Surviving the Night Shift | Night Shift Nurse Routine || Tricia Ysabelle

Drinking water is always good advice, but especially so for caregivers who work night shifts. Staying hydrated can reduce headaches and fatigue and improve mental alertness.

Avoid too much caffeine

Consuming moderate amounts of caffeine can improve alertness and psychomotor performance, important properties in healthcare. However, caffeine can disrupt sleep, reducing its efficiency and duration. Nurses can take caffeine but should consume it in moderation.

Self Care for Nurses

Carer self-care helps improve mental and emotional health, in addition to contributing to better physical health.

A practice

Regular exercise, whether it's working out at the gym or just going for a walk, can help caregivers sleep better, reduce stress, and increase mental clarity. Exercise can also offset poor dietary habits when night-shift nurses struggle to maintain healthy eating habits.


Practicing mindfulness and meditation techniques, especially as part of bedtime, can help caregivers reduce stress and sleep better.

attachment to colleagues

Because they have more time to get to know each other, caregivers who work night shifts together often feel a greater sense of community. These close relationships can help reduce stress and improve morale, potentially having a positive impact on work performance and patient outcomes.

24 hour care

Night shift nursing is essential to ensure continuity of patient care. While night work can be challenging—and poses potential risks to caregivers' physical, mental, and emotional health—there are many strategies to help caregivers manage these issues. By applying these strategies, and with the appropriate support from leaders in their organizations, nurses can find that night shift is a good fit for them.

Completed nursing degree, e.gNorwich University Master of Science program in Nursing, can prepare students for any type of nursing shift and help them develop the skills they need to support other nurses.

recommended reading

What is Nursing Education: Roles and Career Opportunities
Effects of the ongoing nursing shortage in the USA
Cultivate leadership qualities for your professional future


What is shift work?, Sleep Foundation
Summary of work flexibilities and working hours, US Bureau of Labor Statistics
care, night shift and nutrition,american nurse15 tips for caregivers to survive the night shift, As a matter of fact
Careers for Nurses: Opportunities and Options, US Bureau of Labor Statistics
Day Shift vs. Night Shift for Nurses: Differences and Benefits, As a matter of fact
Day shift or night shift? Pros and cons of both, Barton Healthcare Staffing
Main reason for hours off by gender and shift, average values ​​for 2017-2018, US Bureau of Labor Statistics
Health Tips for Night Shift Nurses, Travel Nurse Source
circadian rhythm, Sleep Foundation
The mental health of healthcare workers in COVID-19, Mental Health America
Strategies for coping with shift work disorders, Sleep Foundation
Night shift care: How to create a better work-life balance, NurseChoice
NIOSH Training for Nurses in Shift Work and Long Hours, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Changing meal times to improve cognitive performance during simulated night shifts, National Biotechnology Information Center


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