10 Tips for Your First 12-Hour Travel Nurse Shift · The Gypsy Nurse

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By Amber Pickler

January 16, 2021



10 Tips for Your First 12-Hour Travel Nurse Night Shift

Travel nursing can be hard, add working a 12-hour night shift for the first time and it can prove to be even more difficult.  This is always a hot topic in our Facebook network group.  We have compiled the most popular ways to survive your first 12-hour travel nurse night shift.

Drink Coffee-

This may not work for everyone.  Caffeine doesn’t have the same affect on every person.  However, for those that it does help boost them, this would be a great option.  Just be sure to not use too much sugar in your coffee, because contrary to popular belief sugar can cause an energy crash.  So, while you may get a boost from caffeine the energy crash could outweigh the caffeine. 


While some people believe that coffee is the key to staying awake during your first 12-hour travel nurse night shift.  However, for those who do not like coffee, or it doesn’t wake them up, water may be a better option.  Dehydration leads to fatigue because it impacts the flow of oxygen to the brain and causes your heart to work harder to pump oxygen to all your bodily organs, making you more tired and less alert. By staying hydrated you stay energized. Being energized will help keep you awake for your night shift.  Water is the best drink to keep you hydrated.  If you don’t like water, try putting some type of water flavoring in it.  Just make sure it isn’t full of sugar because as previous stated it can cause you to crash.


You may not even think about your work schedule when making appointments.  However, because you work night shift it is important to keep that in mind when making appointments.  When making appointments, stick to the early mornings so you can go as close to the end of your shift as possible.  If this isn’t possible try to get a late afternoon or early evening appointment.  Having a mid-afternoon or early evening appointment makes it difficult to get a decent amount of uninterrupted sleep before your night shift.

Sleep as late in the day as possible-

Try to sleep as late in the day before your first travel nurse night shift.  This may mean staying up later the night before and getting your sleep closer to your night shift.  If you aren’t able to sleep during the day, you can try a sleep aid.  There are many options of over the counter sleep aids, including melatonin.  Melatonin comes in natural and synthetic forms.  If these don’t do the trick you may need to talk to your doctor about a prescription sleep aid until you get used to the night shift life.

Exercise in the evening-

This is another option that may not work for everyone.  While some people get a boost of energy from exercising, it may make others tired.  For many working out gives them a boost of energy and gets them going for the night shift.  Exercising releases endorphins which can give you a boost of energy.  For some they even do some light exercising while at work on night shift.  A couple ideas of easy exercise to do at work includes arm circles, jumping jacks, walking the unit and lunges.  There are many more you can do but this just give you an idea to get started.

Keep sleep schedule-

Try to maintain your sleep schedule for night shifts even when you aren’t working.  On days you aren’t working, sleep during the day and try to stay awake for as much of the night as possible.   Our readers also suggest that you start your new sleep schedule before you start working the night shift.  Many suggest a week before your first day.   This will give you time to get used to your sleep schedule before you absolutely have to be on that schedule. 

Black out curtains-

Black out curtains are always a popular suggestion from our members for travel nurses starting to work night shift.  Our bodies are meant to sleep when it is dark, so trying to sleep during the day in daylight will make it that much harder to get used to your new sleep schedule.  Black curtains come in many different styles and some will completely block out light while others will block out most of it.  The heavier duty ones also help keep the heat and cold out, as well as can help buffer some sounds. 

Stay active-

This is by far the most popular tip for surviving your first 12-hour travel nurse night shift.  There are many ways to keep active while working.  Walking the unit is a popular option.  Light cleaning or stocking carts are other great options.  Just staying up and on your feet will help you fight fatigue, like exercising this can give you a little boost of energy to keep you going.

Healthy snacks-

Healthy snacks at night can help keep you awake.  Try to stay away from foods high in sugar and carbohydrates.  According to The Washington Post “the quick spike in your blood sugar from eating junk foods high in refined carbohydrates and added sugars can cause a surge in insulin, leading to a quick drop in blood sugar. That leaves you feeling tired, cranky and hungry for more.”

If you are looking for suggestions of healthy foods to snack on during your night shift here are a few ideas to get you started. 

  • Green Tea
  • Protein (jerky, boiled eggs and cheese are a few examples)
  • Chocolate (dark chocolate is best)
  • Fruits (Oranges, pineapples, strawberries and bananas are great options)
  • Whole grain foods (try whole grain toast with peanut butter on top)

Nap before work-

If you aren’t able to stay awake for a period of time after your night shift it is in your best interest to get up earlier and then take a nap before your shift starts.   Power naps are a great option for night shift travel nurses. 

To get the most out of a power snooze, follow these quick tips from Mednick:

  • Be consistent. Keep a regular nap schedule. Prime napping time falls in the middle of the day, between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
  • Make it quick. Set your cell phone alarm for 30 minutes or less if you don’t want to wake up groggy.
  • Go dark. Nap in a dark room or wear an eye mask. Blocking out light helps you fall asleep faster.
  • Stay warm. Stash a blanket nearby to put over you because your body temperature drops while you snooze.

Power napping before your first travel nurse shift will give you a little kick to start your shift. 

We hope that these tips help you with your first travel nurse night first, or any night shift for that matter.  These tips are just to get your started, you may find ways that work better for you.  If you have any other tips or tricks for working night shift comment them below. 

If you would like some information on self-care to keep your mind and body at its best these articles have some great tips!

If you are a new travel nurse or looking into becoming a travel nurse:

Travel Nurse Guide: Step-by-Step (now offered in a PDF Downloadable version!)

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