We know you can be an amazing health care provider and be the nurse your patients need. We also know working all through the night to tend to them isn’t easy. Heck, we know you’d rather be #snoozing! It takes a little practice to stay awake and active during your night shift. Try these five tips to get the most out of your graveyard shifts.

Get Enough Sleep

Tired Nurse Holding a Cup

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Your body naturally wants to catch some Zzz’s when it’s dark out and when you’ve been awake for so long. So how can you fight the urge? You’re gonna have to trick your body. What is your typical nighttime routine before going to bed? Do you watch TV or read? Do some kind of stress-free activity to tell your body to relax. Then, before you hit the sack:

  • Make your room a cave with some black out curtains
  • Wear a sleep mask and use earplugs
  • Consider using white noise to mask daytime distractions
  • Shut off things that could wake you up early, like a cell phone or even your doorbell (just make sure you set your alarm!)

Remember: less distractions = better sleep!

Eat Better [1]

Woman Preparing Food

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We’re not saying ditch the candy bars and sweets 100%, but try to eat foods during your shift that’ll keep you going, not put you into a carb coma. Nobody wants a sugar crash, especially when you’re trying to stay awake! Try foods that:

  • Are high in protein like chicken, eggs or fish
  • Have natural sugars like fruits
  • Aren’t rich in carbs like bread, potatoes or cereal (they actually make you sleepier!)

Think about bringing food and snacks from home. Save yourself some cash so you aren’t getting something #meh from the vending machines.

Working with Others? Get to Know Them!

Two Nurses in Hallway

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Spending time with a coworker can make the night go by way faster….no reason you have to be by yourself during the whole shift! Here are some ideas:

  • Find ways to be active with them, physically and mentally. Go for a walk down the halls or play some logic-style games like crossword puzzles. These things can help you both stay alert and sharp for when your patients need you.
  • Routinely check in with coworkers. Ask them for help and be proactive in building a teamwork environment.
  • Comfort them if they had a hard experience with a patient. Let them know when you’re having a rough day so they can be your shoulder to lean on. Remember, you’re in this together!
  • Give them a ride to or from work. No sleepy drivers on the road!
  • Talk with them about your likes, your dislikes, who your celebrity crush of the week is, anything!

Continue to Retrain Your Body

It may seem weird at first to be sleeping during the day and awake at night, but you’ll need to adjust to a new schedule to be more effective at your job. So what should your schedule look like?

Woman Sleeping with Sleepmask

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Carrington College Registered Nursing program [2] instructor Kimberly Simpson teaches a graveyard clinical AND works night shift. Her schedule? “[The night before my shift] I sleep in, then stay up for 24 hours. I go directly to bed when I get off in the morning and sleep for 6 hours roughly. That is enough for me and I go to the gym prior to going to work.” She also emphasized the importance of eating and snacking right for more energy, taking vitamins (especially B vitamins) and exercising and forming relationships with co-workers.

Of course every person will be different and you have to find what works for you. Don’t be afraid to ask your coworkers how they managed to retrain their bodies. They found their balance; so can you! [3]

Remember “Me Time”

Woman with Tablet Wearing Headphones

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Spend some of your time off taking a time out. You just finished working all night on your feet while the rest of the world was cozy in bed, which means it’s totally ok for you to do the same! Depending on how often you work late nights, you may choose to just rest and recover and keep retraining your body. But if your schedule is a little more flexible:

  • Go get a massage or pedicure
  • Read a book or magazine
  • Binge-watch your favorite show
  • Get a bite to eat with friends if they’re available
  • Visit your family

Remember that you can also utilize your workplace’s resources to assist you if you experienced a rough shift. Above all, focus on getting that proper balance of work and rest. Don’t be afraid to ask people for help if you’re still feeling drained or exhausted. We all want you to be successful!


[1] http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/health-fitness/healthy-eating/nutrition-tips-for-night-shift-workers

[2] Important information about the educational debt, earnings and completion rate of students who attended this program can be found at carrington.edu/GE.

[3] https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-tools-tips/tips-shift-workers

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