4 Tips for Night Shift Nurses To Stay Alert and Happy

Are you a nurse that has ever worked the night shift? If so, you know it’s a unique experience that requires extra care for staying on top of your game—professionally and personally.

The most useful tips for night shift nurses focus on overcoming demands that day shift nurses may not always face.

In fact, nurses who work overnight have a distinctive set of responsibilities that even set them apart from other overnight workers outside of the medical field.

Because of this, we’ll look at two things:

  1. Staying alert
  2. Maintaining happiness

Seems simple enough, right?

The truth is that each can be a constant challenge to address, so we’ve gathered useful tips for both of these elements as they relate to night shift nursing.

Let’s review some practical and proven tips for night nurses that will help conquer the possible demands so that you can excel at your job.

Our Four Best Tips for Night Shift Nurses
(Plus, a bonus tip!)

Get adequate sleep every day | 4 Tips for Night Shift Nurses To Stay Alert and Happy

1. Get Adequate Sleep Every Day

Getting sleep tends to top the list when it comes to tips for night shift nurses. The question is: How can you get more of it?

While the national average is 7-9 hours a night, some people can feel great with less sleep. It is widely known that less than 6 hours per night results in physical ailments and symptoms of fatigue.

Ensuring you get the amount of sleep your body needs is crucial for staying alert on the job. Any nurse will tell you that sleep is hard to come by, but it is especially difficult for night nurses.

Creating a sleep schedule will be the only truly effective way to accomplish this. The most valuable night shift nursing tips all boil down to scheduling. It may seem impossible to make sleep a priority with all the other responsibilities of life, especially when the rest of the world is running opposite you.

As hard as it may be to achieve, studies show that adults between the age of 24-65 need at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep to function at maximum capacity.

SEE ALSO: 5 Least Stressful Nursing Jobs in the Healthcare Field

Get your 7 hours by creating a schedule that works for you, and then sticking to it consistently.

One of the best tips for night shift nurses seeking more sleep may be the hardest to implement.

You guessed it: shut down those electronics!

It is incredibly difficult to keep from checking your phone when the rest of the world is active, but limiting screen time before bed will help you get to sleep faster.

Studies show that blue light disrupts our circadian rhythms, resulting in the inability for the body to calm itself and prepare for sleep.

If you absolutely have to be on your mobile device, try filtering blue light out. Set your device to night mode (iPhone), or use an app like Twilight (Android).

Use these tactics for falling asleep faster when it’s daylight outside:

  • Make sure the room is very dark, cool and quiet.
  • Consider investing in blackout curtains and/or an eye mask.
  • Use earplugs to avoid noise.
  • Avoid food and drink right before bed.
Top Tips for Night Shift Nursing | Difficulty Level 1

Enjoy a balance diet | 4 Tips for Night Shift Nurses To Stay Alert and Happy

2. Enjoy a Balanced Diet and Stay Hydrated

Proper nutrition is the number one way to feel awake. Symptoms of hunger will affect your energy level making you less alert.

Eating a balanced meal before work ensures your energy reserves are full.

We stress the word “balanced” because foods that are high in sugar will start your shift off on the right foot, but cause a major crash midway through the night.

The right nutrients will help carry your body through long shifts.

In addition to eating well, the benefits of staying hydrated can keep you from feeling symptoms like:

  • headaches
  • stiff muscles and joints
  • dizziness
  • confusion
  • overall lethargy

Drinking plenty of water at work and at home is the key to accomplishing this goal. It is recommended that an adult drink at least 6-8 8 oz. glasses of water per day. Every person is unique and some people will feel well with less water, while some will need more.

Part of implementing this tip means thinking ahead. Making smart choices at the grocery store can be accomplished by preparing a list of healthy ingredients, and then sticking to that list.

Cooking for yourself means you can avoid having to rely on the less-than-healthy options offered in the hospital cafeteria (if they are even open overnight).

Perhaps one of the easiest tips for night shift nurses to implement is bringing your own snacks. Ensure proper nutrition by sticking to healthy snacks when hunger hits during a shift.

Try these easy to prepare snacks:

  • Mixed nuts: cashews, almonds, pecans
  • Cut up veggies: carrots, cauliflower or jicama
  • Fruit: apples, pears, bananas
  • Avocado slices on crackers
  • Yogurt or chia pudding
  • Organic meat jerky: beef, turkey or salmon

It is very easy to rely on the vending machine. However, the highly processed, sugary foods are not the right kind fuel. In fact, these snacks are likely to contribute to dehydration due to high sodium levels.

Keeping yourself from ever truly feeling hungry will ensure your energy levels stay high.

This also goes for staying hydrated. In fact, dehydration often feels like hunger, and taking a long drink of water can give a body what it needs to feel healthy and perform well.

Feeling thirsty during your shift? Here are some tips for staying hydrated:

  • Keep a bottle or canteen of water with you all the time, even on the nightstand.
  • Set a reminder on your phone to take a drink every hour (excluding sleeping hours).
  • Flavor your water naturally with fruit or antioxidant-rich cucumber.
  • Drink a full glass of water as soon as you wake up, before putting anything else in your body.

Top Tips for Night Shift Nursing | Difficulty Level 3

Stay fit and active | 4 Tips for Night Shift Nurses To Stay Alert and Happy

3. Stay Fit and Active

With all the physicality that goes into a typical nursing shift, you may feel like staying fit is already a perk of the job. Walking and lifting are two physical demands of nursing that help keep you active, but the benefits of being truly fit are numerous, including the positive side effect: alertness.

Robert Thayer, PhD conducted a study that proved 10 minutes of brisk physical activity will make you feel more alert than a sugar rush (eating a candy bar).

The endorphin rush that comes after with a good workout is proof; staying fit has a measurable effect on your ability to maintain high energy levels.

Making time for exercise may not be priority number one but start by committing to three 30-minute workouts per week.

SEE ALSO: 5 Awesome Tips for Beating the Physical Demands of Nursing

This minimal effort will drastically increase stamina and strength, and decrease muscle aches and tension associated with your frequently overworked muscles.

You may be able to implement some of these exercise tips for night shift nursing during slower times in your shift:

  • 10 lunges down the hall
  • 60-second wall-sits
  • 30 calf-raises while supporting yourself on the handrail
  • and of course, take the stairs!

Top Tips for Night Shift Nursing | Difficulty Level 3

Remain in touch with the world | 4 Tips for Night Shift Nurses To Stay Alert and Happy

4. Remain In Touch With The Rest of the World

Keeping open lines of communication with friends and family helps you maintain a sense of balance and order in your life, both with work and with personal matters. This life/work balance is a struggle for people working normal hours, so those working the night shift have to put even more focus on it to keep from feeling isolated.

Most people you know are sleeping while you are at work.

However, that doesn’t mean you have to miss them completely during the day!

Try to plan your sleep schedule around the important people in your life. If those people are around more in the morning, plan for your sleep schedule to begin 7-9 hours before your night shift.

If you are more likely to spend time with those later in the afternoon, plan to get to bed as soon as your shift ends.

Making the most of your sleep schedule will help create time off during the day that can be enjoyed with your loved ones.

This will help you feel more connected as well as make it easier to mentally and emotionally manage your challenging work schedule.

SEE ALSO: Nursing Job Stress: How to Deal with it Effectively Everyday

Top Tips for Night Shift Nursing | Difficulty Level 7

The Power of Now | 4 Tips for Night Shift Nurses To Stay Alert and Happy

Bonus Tip:  Practice Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is defined as the conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives, and desires.

With the demands of a high-pressure job and the ups and downs of daily living, it is all too easy to rely on the mind’s ability to run on “autopilot”.

Strong self-awareness helps you maintain peak levels of happiness through practicing skills like resilience and acceptance.

Studies show that people who are less happy are also more frequently tired.

In an article by Healthline.com, the link between symptoms of depression and symptoms of chronic fatigue explains how having one symptom can lead to having the other.

SEE ALSO: I Hate Nursing: 9 Ways to Get Inspired and Excited Again

Self-awareness is the “cherry on top” of these tips for night shift nurses, due to its ability to help you be more alert AND happier.

If you are already actively practicing these skills, you know the immeasurable benefits of staying connected to your inner self.

If you are new to the idea of self-awareness, consider reading or listening to an audiobook of “The Power of Now” by author Eckhart Tolle.

Self awareness not only helps you mentally, it helps you to better understand others.

Every nurse knows that the ability to understand others is crucial to success. This resource provides a thorough overview of self-awareness.

SEE ALSO: Nurse Stress and Burnout: How to Deal with it Effectively Everyday

Top Tips for Night Shift Nursing | Difficulty Level 5


The specific set of responsibilities for night nursing includes a series of perks and demands. Having the tools to meet those demands ensures nurses can fully enjoy the benefits of the night shift.

For maximum results, practice these tips for a working night shift nurses by working them into your schedule in a way that best fits your lifestyle.

  1. Get adequate sleep every day
  2. Enjoy a balanced diet and stay hydrated
  3. Stay fit and active
  4. Remain in touch with the rest of the world
  5. Practice self-awareness


➡ Did we forget any helpful tips for night shift nurses?

Share with us in the comments below!


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