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Tips For Nurses Working An Overnight Shift, From Others Who Have Been There

Working an overnight shift can take some getting used to and isn’t always an easy transition for an internal clock that is used to being awake during the day and sleeping at night. Many of our home care nurses work with children that require extended hours of care, meaning overnight shifts are regularly needed and they need to be alert and ready to care for the child at any moment. Having a few tricks up their sleeve to stay alert throughout those overnight shifts can be a huge benefit, so we wanted to share some of our best tips with nurses working in the same scenario.

If you’re a nurse working overnight shifts, print these off, highlight the ones that work best for you, or share your own in the comments below! Know a nurse working night shifts? Share this with them – they’ll thank you for it.

Schedule Patient Cares

• Make a schedule that spaces out cares and maintenance. Give yourself something to complete and chart every 30-60 minutes.
• Plan accordingly for your patient- some patients get busy toward morning, so make sure all maintenance is completed prior to.
• Check medication expiration dates and notes in MAR for accuracy.
• Catch up on patient’s Progress Notes and Communication book.

Stay Hydrated

• Drink LOTS of fluids to stay hydrated, will keep you alert and added bonus of needing bathroom breaks. COLD fluids are preferred.
• Stop drinking 3-4 hours before you expect to go to sleep to prevent bathroom breaks interfering with sleep.

Use Caffeine Wisely

• If you use caffeine, drink it at the start and mid-point of shift. Caution not to drink caffeine within 6 hours of when you expect to sleep as it may keep you awake.
• Bring hot coffee in a thermos or heat up in microwave.
• Avoid caffeine when you don’t really need it so it really works when you do need it.
• Splurge on “fancy” coffee treats prior to your Noc shifts- this has the added bonus of giving you something to look forward to.

What to Eat

• Don’t eat large meals before or during your shift- this can make you feel sluggish after.
• Avoid sugar/high carb foods before and during your shift- you’ll get the burst of energy, followed by the crash.
• Bring snacks for your shift instead of full meals- crunchy (veggies, pretzels) cold (fruits, yogurts) high
protein (cheese, cold meats, peanut butter) and spicy are preferred by many.
• Hard candies/mints and ice cubes.

Keep Moving

• Go to the gym/work out prior to your shift- wakes you up and gets the blood flowing. Manyreport a regular
exercise routine prior to their shift also helps them sleep better the next day.
• During your shift get up and move as often as possible- low impact exercise such as yoga, stretching, sit ups, pushups, squats, arm circles, etc.
• Walk around or walk in place- get a pedometer and reach your 10,000 steps.
• Again, moving around has the added bonus of helping you sleep more soundly when you do go to bed.

Don’t Get Too Comfortable

• Avoid the comfy chair or couch- sit on the floor or hard chair instead.
• Splash cold water on your face.
• Stand up to chart or complete other tasks.
• Avoid pulling a blanket over your lap.

Keep It Light

• Keep a light on in your work area at all times if possible.
• Make sure you have light when drawing up meds- go to kitchen or bathroom if need be to ensure you can
see and avoid med errors.
• If family prefers to keep light to a minimum, go into bathroom and stand in the light for a few minutes-
this will help you feel more alert.

Extra Help

• If patient has school or appointment the next morning, pack and prep as much as you can for the day- parents and/or oncoming nurse will appreciate it!
• Re-stock supplies so everyone has what they need where they need it.
• Clean, sort, organize- this is appreciated by everyone.

Keep Your Brain Busy

• Run through emergency scenarios to increase your ability to be prepared.
• Review supply inventory sheets- even if you don’t need to order this will help you feel more familiar for
when you do.
• Read and respond to emails.
• Research a nursing topic.
• Bring activities for your down time- word puzzles/crosswords, homework, knitting/crocheting/cross-stitch
(if you don’t know how- learn. Many reported picking up these hobbies on Noc shifts), journal, make your
to-do list, research your next vacation, etc.
• Electronics- download games or a movie prior to your shift on your device. If using ear buds- use one ear
and make sure you can always hear patient and alarms with the other. Several reported downloading a
new movie to watch helped them look forward to their shift. *One person cited watching a scary movie
kept them awake*
• Bring multiple activities in case one makes you tired.

Beware the Danger Zone

• Between 2am and 4am is when people report feeling the most tired. Be aware of this as you plan your shift.  Specifically plan things to complete during this time to keep you moving and busy during this time.

Be Aware of the Temperature

• Most find it to get a little chilly during Noc shifts- let yourself feel a bit chilled as this helps keep you alert.
• Avoid too many layers and any blankets that make you feel warm and comfy- this will make you feel more sluggish and sleepy.

Use Natural Oils and Eyes Drops if Necessary

• Peppermint and lemon oil can help increase alertness. If this works for you, keep some with you to smell if you start feeling sleepy.
• If your eyes get dry when you’re tired, keep eye drops with you.

Originally published: April 13, 2015

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