Surviving Night Duty


Published: 10 July 2016

Night duty is a different animal from every other shift, and you need some strategies to make it through comfortably. Although day shift seems like the most hectic, night shift can really keep a nurse hopping and busy. Don’t discount how busy night shift can be! However, people look down on the shift because they assume patients sleep (which they often don’t). Here are five night shift tips from a dedicated night shift nurse:

Don’t Forget To Eat

Although it may seem strange to eat at three in the morning, you need to anyway. If you don’t, your blood sugar levels will drop and you will feel tired. It may also affect your ability to function safely as a nurse. You shouldn’t eat anything too heavy in the middle of the night, especially if you are swinging shifts. Your body may end up very confused. Try to eat something every four to six hours to maintain your strength and help you get through your shift.

“…If you don’t (eat), your blood sugar levels will drop and you will feel tired. It may also affect your ability to function safely as a nurse…”

Round Early and Often

It’s true: people tend to get sick and die overnight. Why does this happen? It may be because the nurse doesn’t check in with them as often as they would on day shift. For instance, a day shift nurse knows that the patient is going downhill because they are awake. A night shift nurse may not see the signs because the patient is sleeping. Try to check in on your patient every one to two hours. Watch their breathing. See if they are in obvious distress. It may be hard to tell, but looking in can help you stop problems before they get serious.

Prioritise Your Work

Night shift workers often have other duties that are not related to patient care. These are usually clerical or paperwork jobs that need to be done for the day. For instance, nurses may be asked to check each order by hand for their patient to make sure they were carried out during the day. You need to prioritise patient care around these other duties so that you make sure you are still answering bells, doing rounds, and administering medications. Even though you don’t have to necessarily prioritise like day shift, it is still an important part of the night shift scene.

Be Careful With Caffeine

tips for night duty

Caffeine is often a staple of a night shift nurse’s diet, but maybe it shouldn’t be. From coffee to energy drinks, nurses are always looking for that pick-me-up to get through the night. Unfortunately, drinking all of this caffeine can lead to daytime wakefulness, and that is counterproductive to sleep and rest. In addition, caffeine only lasts for so long. You may get a rush, but that rush will wear off more quickly than you think. Caffeine also tends to not work as well when you drink too much of it. It is one of those drugs that you can develop resistance to, and that means you have to drink more and more. In short, it is just not healthy. If you want to be awake for night shift, focus on sleep. If you really do need caffeine, try not to drink any for four hours before the end of your shift. That should enable you to get your energy boost and still sleep, too.

Don’t Waste Time

Most nurses don’t find that they have the luxury of wasting time, but sometimes on night shift you may find yourself in a little bit of a lull. It doesn’t happen often with the rounding, cleaning, clerical work, ED admissions and call bells, but it can happen. When you find yourself in this position, don’t just sit in the nurses’ station and play on your phone. Firstly, most facilities frown on phones on the floor. Secondly, some other nurse is probably drowning in work. If you have time, help your fellow nurse. Answer bells regardless of whose patient it is. Offer to get an admission settled. Do their clerical work for them. In short, there is always something you can do to help out. Don’t let night shift fool you, there is always something to do.