They told you about night shift in nursing school, but they didn’t TEACH you about night shift. Set yourself up for the night shift the RIGHT way!
At least once a week during my senior year of nursing school, the professors would tell everyone about the very high odds of working the night shift as new grads. It’s true that a majority of new grads DO begin their nursing careers on night shift or rotate between days and nights after orientation. However, the professors did not teach us ANYTHING about night shift. What the professors did was create this truly intimidating mentality about night shift, leaving us feeling scared, overwhelmed, and underprepared for what we were about to face.
As that night shift nurse mentor, one of the biggest questions I’m regularly asked is about what you need to know when you begin on night shift. Whether you are a new grad just starting out or you are a seasoned nurse making a career transition, the following 3 starter tips are so important! The sooner you set yourself up for a thriving night shift lifestyle, the better you will feel in the long run.
1- Set up your environment
First and foremost, you have to turn your daytime bedroom into a nighttime one. How you set up your bedroom for sleep is crucial to the quality rest and recovery you need before and after your night shifts. Sleep disturbances occur because our senses detect sound, light, and temperature differences. All the changes made to your bedroom involve decreasing your sensitivity.
Sound– Daytime life can be noisy. Using earplugs, a sound machine, or a fan can significantly reduce your sleep disturbances to outside noise. One of my new favorite items (if you’re looking to invest in something) is the Bose Sleepbuds 2. They function as earplugs, a sound machine, and an alarm… all within your ear!
Light– Of course, blackout curtains are a MUST! The more layers to cover the light, the better. Room darkening curtains are not the same as blackout, as the material isn’t as thick and still allows light to come through. If you have room darkening curtains, you can purchase a pair of blackout liners that can attach behind them to deepen the darkness in your room. A sleep mask is always another good recommendation. Blackout curtains and liners can help to limit outside sound from getting in while also helping with temperature regulation.
Temperature– Speaking of temperature regulation… we don’t get the best quality sleep when we are too hot or too cold. In fact, the best sleep temperature is when you can set your thermostat between 65 and 70 degrees, per the National Sleep Foundation. Our core temperature decreases when we sleep and rises to wake us up. Make sure you have your thermostat set to your comfort level, but pair that temperature with appropriate blankets and pajamas. Don’t forget to account for bedroom temperature changes throughout the day depending on the season as well.
**Something important to note: leave screens out of the bedroom. Watching or listening to the TV is not recommended. The same thing applies to phones. Set your alarm if that’s what you use, and put the screen away. Blue light from the devices inhibits the release of melatonin- our sleep hormone.
2- Set up a routine
Our bodies crave knowing what to do and when to do it! This is called routine. Our body does this naturally through what is known as circadian rhythms and chronotypes. They are what help us meet our basic human needs first before we give away our time and energy to others. Night shift, however, feels super unnatural because we must work against what our body wants to do, which is wake with the sun and sleep when it’s dark. We have to create a totally different lifestyle because of the “backward” hours we work.
The thing about routines: no one routine is the same for everyone! And there are four different night shift “days” that you must plan for in your schedule to provide consistency for your body. Each “day” requires a different yet similar setup so you can prepare and recover from your shift in the best way possible for YOU.
Night on: Your first night on can be identified as the first shift you work when you were off the night before. You slept like a normal human the night before. You use this day to prepare for your shift.
Day off: A full day of normal human life. You wake in the morning and sleep at night.
Back-to-back: You worked the night before, and you’re back again that night. That feeling of “sleep all day, work all night” and do it over again.
Flip day: The day when you get home from work in the morning, but technically it’s your day off, so you want to flip back to a normal schedule.
The essential elements a successful night shift routine must include for preparation and recovery are sleep, nutrition, movement, relaxation, and quality time/socialization. Incorporating these components into the four-night shift “days” will ensure you can maintain your physical, mental, and emotional health so you can be your authentic self personally and professionally.
3- Set up your boundaries
Once you have your routine nailed down, you build your boundaries based off of that. Boundaries are how you maintain your work/life balance with a night shift lifestyle. They help you protect the essential elements previously mentioned. You can get the sleep you need to recover. You can get the quality time you miss without having to feel night-shift-hungover all the time. You say yes and no to extra shifts because you know whether or not you can properly prepare and recover from them to avoid staying up for more than 24 hours.
The thing about boundaries is that we often feel mean when we say no to something, or we get hard on ourselves for feeling like we’re missing out. Being consistent with your boundaries and communicating about them to others will help you feel good in the long run. Others will notice a change in your mood, happiness, and health because you have been able to get the rest your body needs to feel present for what/who is important to you.
In summary, if you can set up your environment, routines, and boundaries soon into your night shift career, you can absolutely THRIVE in the long run.
(I’m adding this below part as a plug for my mentorship services, so feel free to not include it, but I think it would be great to share)
I want you to know you do not have to navigate the night shift alone. If you feel like your current approach to the night shift could use an upgrade, I am here to show you the way through my free community and mentorship opportunities which provide you the education, tools, resources, and accountability you need to design your own balanced, flexible schedule and routine. Night shift nurses deserve a healthy, thriving lifestyle too!
We hope you found this article on night shift tips helpful. Do you have any other night shift tips to share with fellow travel nurses? Comment them below.