Nursing · Tips

Adjusting to the Night Shift: 6 Tips for Staying Awake

While some are sleeping, others come alive. Whether it’s pulling an all-nighter, finishing a Netflix series, or working the night shift, we all have our reasons for staying up late. As a new nurse adjusting to the night shift, I’ll be sharing some work-related ways to keep that energy up through the night. Here are 6 tips that have helped me so far:

1. But first, sleep

If you really expect to stay up all night, it’s important to get some quality rest before coming to work. This should be a no-brainier; it’s the most important key in staying awake. Beyond that, it’s not safe for nurses to practice on no sleep. Do it for the patients!

Find a rhythm that works for you. It may take a month or more to get used to, but over time your body will adjust. Maintaining circadian rhythm (your body’s internal clock) as much as possible helps.

Invest in some blackout curtains or a sleep mask.  A dark bedroom can trick the body into thinking it’s nighttime, and may produce some melatonin (the body’s sleep hormone). Neat!

2. Time your caffeine correctly

Coffee, tea, or diet Mountain Dew?…pick your favorite caffeinated drink, and have a cup at the beginning of work and mid-shift. Have a cup of water, too, because caffeine is a diuretic. Disclaimer: “drinking caffeine for energy” is controversial because the energy boost is short-lived.

Keep in mind that up to 400mg of caffeine daily is safe for healthy adults. 1 cup of coffee contains 90 mg, tea 24 mg, and 12 oz Mountain Dew has 54 mg.

Caffeine works by binding to the body’s adenosine receptors, which bind throughout the day and create a sleepy feeling. Caffeine molecules prevent adenosine from doing so, and give dopamine (which increases attentiveness, alertness,learning) a chance to increase!

Be aware that a large amount of caffeine may cause a “rebound effect” as it wears off, and the energy boost is short-term. To prevent an influx of sleepy feelings all at once, a steady intake of caffeine (in smaller amounts) may keep the adenosine at bay. Caffeine at the beginning of work and mid-shift increases your chances of sleeping when you get home, as opposed to having it at the end!

3. Exercise

Taking a short break away from the unit, for the purpose of exercise, increases mental alertness, bloodflow, and overall energy level. Clock out and walk the halls, take the stairs, or do some squats for a few minutes. If your hospital or facility has a gym, take advantage of the weights or cardio machines!

4. Eat…wisely

Whole grains, healthy fats, fruits, vegetables, and iron energize the body and keep that metabolism going. Try to incorporate many nutrient-rich foods in small amounts throughout the night!

Greasy, high-fat and high-calorie foods have a tendency to induce food coma and naps in large amounts. I am guilty of eating pizza most nights, so I’d be the first to admit I’m eating some high-fat foods. However, by adding healthy omega fats (fish) and monunsaturated fats (peanut butter) my energy levels don’t take a fall even though I’m eating some “bad” foods too. Listen to your body and adjust your diet accordingly, but know that “healthy” foods will fuel your body better than anything else.

5. Stimulate your mind

Write notes, chart, and chat with co-workers about life and various topics. Actively thinking will prevent rest. As nurses, we are behind the same nurse’s station for 12 hours at a time, and it’s hard not to find a social version of yourself in that setting. If you’re not normally a talker, challenge yourself to strike up a conversation. Value the down-time when it comes, and get to know the people on your team. Talk about current medical research, or personal life and hobbies if you feel comfortable.

6. Stay in the light

Turn the lights on. Look at bright colors. Prevent that melatonin from forming! Staying in a light environment will keep your body from thinking it’s nap-time.

Please comment below and share your own tips for staying up late during the night shift!

Thanks for reading!


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3 thoughts on “Adjusting to the Night Shift: 6 Tips for Staying Awake

  1. Oooh nice!

    Great tips btw. I used to work shifts and some tricks I used to employ is to either talk to your buddy, or eat some snacks lol!

    Watch out for the latter option though! I’ve seen lots of my colleagues gaining a bad habit of eating junk food just because they couldn’t discipline themselves. Drinking water always helped in providing a sudden focus as well whenever I feel like I’m dozing off lol.

    If I recall correctly, I’ve heard that our bodies are made to work in the day and rest in the night. When we work shift and perform a late night shift- It will have an affect on us especially in the long term.

    Considering the fact that we humans had no vast “Light” source available to us at night to begin with- Until the invention of “Lightings” itself- We use lights to prolong our “Days” so that we can get more things done.

    If my memory serves me right, certain vitamins and some other benefits which we’d get from the sun would be lost because we’ll be exposed more to “Artificial sunlight”. Just a little knowledge which I think might be worth sharing 🙂

    How’s work so far btw bud?

    Your pal,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the reply! I would agree that talking and snacking are extremely effective tips. And yes, all those potato chips are dangerous for the waistline 🙂

      You’re absolutely right, night shift does have some bad long term effects on our body. We can only trick ourselves for so long. Sleep quality is not the same during the day. We burn far less calories when we sleep during the day as opposed to night, too!

      I think it’s important to switch back to a normal night-and-day schedule on off-days. I am absolutely loving the night shift, and since I’m young, I may not see the poor effects for a while! That’s a good thing and a bad thing. Thanks so much for sharing, and I hope you’re doing well!

      Liked by 1 person

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