Most nurses at some point in their career will have to work night shift. The grueling hours can take their toll on your body and your life, so it is important to focus on taking care of yourself. Here are a few suggestions for how you can be healthier (and happier) while working night shift:
1. Find a sleep schedule that works for you.
It is important to find a sleep schedule that works for you while working night shift. Some people can switch back and forth between day shift and night shift simply by taking long naps the day before they work (e.g., sleep 10 pm – 6 am and nap 3 pm – 5 pm). If you find you are unable to take naps, try sleeping in late the morning before you work (e.g., sleep 2 am – 10 am). You may also find that your body functions better with only a partial switch in your sleep schedule, so that you stay up later at night and sleep later in the day, even on your days off (e.g., sleep 4 am – 12 pm on your days off).
2. Drink caffeinated beverages (in moderation).
Many night shift workers are dependent on caffeine for survival. If you are someone who relies on caffeine to stay awake during your shift, be sure to stay away from energy drinks that are loaded with sugar and large amounts of caffeine. Instead, drink coffee or tea. Remember to stop drinking caffeinated beverages around 2 am to avoid being unable to sleep later in the morning.
3. Fuel your body with healthy foods.
It may be tempting to binge on sugary foods to feel energized, but these foods will cause your blood sugar to crash and your stomach to rumble shortly afterward. Fill your lunch box with high protein foods that will help you stay full longer, and fruits and veggies that will help your body feel refreshed instead of sluggish. Try packing items like apples with peanut butter, salad with fruit and nut toppings, or a brown rice veggie bowl.
4. Practice good sleep hygiene.
One of the most difficult parts about working night shift is having to sleep during the day. By practicing good sleep hygiene, you will be able to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Try investing in a good set of blackout curtains and earplugs to simulate the quiet darkness of nighttime. Avoid watching TV or looking at your phone before you sleep, and be sure to turn your phone to silent mode to avoid notifications that will wake you up. Before you crawl into bed, take some time to unwind and relax by stretching, reading, or meditating; this will help signal your body that it is time for sleep.
5. Stay hydrated.
Staying hydrated throughout your night shift will help your mind stay alert and your body feel energized. Your body is made of over 60% water, and water fuels almost every bodily function. The average woman should drink approximately 2.7 liters of water, and the average man should drink 3.7 liters of water per day. If you’re not a fan of plain water, try adding slices of fruit to your water for some extra flavor.
6. Seek professional help if needed.
Some people experience headaches, insomnia, and nausea while working night shift. Give your body a month or so to adjust to your new lifestyle, and if you continue to struggle, talk with your doctor. A doctor may be able to advise you on how to treat and manage your symptoms.
Working as a nurse is a rewarding but sometimes grueling job. After 12 hours of trying to keep your patients happy (and alive), you are both physically and mentally exhausted. If you don’t take the time to de-stress after work, you may find yourself unable to relax and go to sleep. In the long run, you could experience burnout or even health complications due to stress.
Here are five ways that you can unwind after a long day of work:
Meditating can be a great way to clear your mind after work. If you’ve never meditated before, try closing your eyes and taking 5 deep breaths, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Focus on each breath and how it feels entering and leaving your body. Imagine that with every exhale, you are releasing all of the stress and tension in your body, and with every inhale, you are feeling more and more relaxed.
Let your pen do the talking after a stressful day at work. It doesn’t matter what you write about, just start writing and let your mind and your pen wander. You may find yourself making a list, writing random thoughts, or describing your day. Focusing your hands on a simple task will help your mind and body to relax. If you’re not into writing, try coloring or doodling.
3. Pamper yourself.
Channel your inner diva and take some time to pamper yourself. You deserve it! Apply a face mask, soak in a bubble bath, or maybe even splurge on a massage. If spa time isn’t your thing, go out to dinner at a fancy restaurant or stay in and rent a movie. However you decide to pamper yourself, make sure you thoroughly enjoy it and soak up every minute of your self-care time.
Exercising is a great way to burn off (literally) your frustrations and de-stress after a day at work. It doesn’t matter what type of exercise you do, as long as it is something you enjoy. While you are working out your body, your mind will be processing the events and emotions of the day. By the time you are finished with your workout, your mind will feel clear and ready to take on the rest of the day.
5. Talk to someone.
Sometimes the most valuable thing you can do for yourself after a difficult day is to talk about it. It may seem counterintuitive to relive the events that caused you stress, but it will actually help you process your emotions and relieve the tension that you are feeling. Find someone who is a good listener who will simply be there for you while you vent. After you are finished discussing your day, don’t think about it anymore!
My name is Sarah and I have been a postpartum nurse for about a year. I work on a 36-bed labor, delivery, recovery, and postpartum unit in the Seattle area. We take care of a variety of postpartum patients and babies on our unit, and see gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, small- and large-for-gestational-age babies, late pre-term babies, etc. I work three 12-hour shifts per week, and I am currently working night shift.
Typically, I have three to four couplets each night, all needing vital signs, assessments, medications, 24-hour newborn screenings and much more. I am lucky enough to work at a baby-friendly hospital where we encourage breastfeeding, so I spend about 30% of my time as a postpartum nurse educating and assisting my patients with breastfeeding. The rest of my time is spent delivering hands on nursing care (about 40%) and charting (about 30%).
It would be nearly impossible to write about the many things I do during my 12-hour shift, but I will try to describe a typical day as a postpartum nurse:
17:00: My alarm goes off. I snooze for another 15 minutes while I cuddle with my cat.
17:30: Shower time. Once I am squeaky clean, I eat a bagel and cream cheese and drink my English breakfast tea. I always make time to sit down and eat before I go to work so that I can fuel my body and mind.
18:10: I braid my hair, do my makeup, and put on my scrubs.
18:45: I say goodbye to my cat and she meows in protest. I head to my car and listen to NPR during my 10 minute drive to the hospital.
19:00: I clock in, grab a work phone, drop off my bags in my locker, fill my pockets with my essential nursing supplies, and sit in the break room to hear the unit’s announcements and safety concerns.
19:10: Out on the floor I am greeted by the day shift nurses, who are extremely happy to see the night shift nurses. I have been assigned three couplets tonight. Two are vaginal deliveries and one is a caesarean section. One of them is an experienced mom, and the other two are first-time moms. All have chosen to breastfeed their babies (yay!).
19:15: I find the day shift nurse who has my patients and we go into their rooms to get SBAR report, introduce me to the patients, and write my work phone number on their white boards. As I congratulate each set of parents and ask about their baby’s name, I scan the room and patient to make sure all my emergency supplies are available, tubes and drains are functioning properly, and the bed and bassinet are locked and safe.
19:40: After getting report, I sit down at a computer to gather additional information on my patients and plan my night. For each patient, I look at their history, orders, medications, and labs, and chart a Braden skin assessment and Morse fall scale. I plan out when vital signs, medications, and other tasks need to be done during the night.
20:15: Feeling organized and ready to take on the night, I visit each of my patients to tell them their plan of care. While I’m in the room, I restock supplies, take out trash or dirty linens, and tidy up the room.
20:30: I get a call from one of the dads. Baby pooped for the first time and they need help with the diaper change. I enter the room to find a screaming baby and panicked dad. Dad hands me the baby and I proceed to change the diaper while I educate the parents on diaper basics. The parents look at me with wide eyes as they see the sticky black meconium. I reassure them that this is completely normal as I swaddle baby and hand him to dad.
21:00: It’s time to do the first set of vital signs on my cesarean section patient and her baby. I get blood pressure, temperature, and do a full assessment on mom. Her belly is distended from the c/s and she hasn’t passed gas yet, so I talk with her about taking a medication to help relieve the gas and other alternative therapies she can try. She agrees to take the medication and try walking the halls, so I grab the gas pill, simethicone, as well as her Advil and Tylenol that are due. I assess her pain and give her the medications. I then listen to baby’s heart and lungs and do a full assessment. Baby has a wet diaper, so I quickly change it and swaddle him.
21:30: Spotting my charge nurse in the hall, I stop to give her an update on my patients and ask a few questions. She tells me there are cookies in the break room from a thankful patient, so I make a mental note to grab one later in the night.
22:00: I take my 15-minute break and scarf down an apple with peanut butter, pretzels, and cheese. I drink some jasmine green tea on my way back to the unit.
23:00: More vitals and medication administration. While in one of the rooms, I notice that baby has managed to wiggle out of his swaddle, so I wrap him up and spend a few minutes cuddling and cooing at him until mom has returned from the bathroom.
00:00: I get a phone call from one of my dads and he expresses concern about baby being fussy. I go into the room to see if I can help soothe baby. I educate the parents about the many reasons baby might be crying: hunger, wet/poopy diaper, wanting to be held, etc. The parents soak up the information like a sponge and begin to discuss what baby might want. They decide that baby needs to be re-swaddled and might want to be held. I watch and give feedback as mom swaddles the baby. It takes her two tries, but she is thrilled to have done it by herself.
01:00: It is time for the 24-hour screening, so the tech and I gather our supplies and head into the patient’s room. The baby is sleeping, so we take advantage of the quiet time to do the CCHD heart screening and jaundice check. Baby passes the CCHD test, but the jaundice level is higher than average. I explain to the parents that while I do the metabolic screening, I will also be gathering a small tube of baby’s blood to test the serum bilirubin level. The parents are asking questions about why baby’s bilirubin is higher, so I sit down to explain and educate them about newborn jaundice. While I’m discussing this with the parents, the tech is weighing baby and warming baby’s foot for the heel poke. Once the baby’s foot is warmed up, the tech holds the baby in her arms while I clean, poke, and gather blood from the heel. The baby doesn’t cry during the whole procedure and the parents proudly state that they have a brave baby.
01:30: I run the bilirubin test to the lab. I then get a phone call. One of the moms is having difficulty feeding her sleepy baby and she would like me to come help.
01:40: I enter the patient’s room and baby is sound asleep on mom’s chest. It has been almost three hours since baby’s last feeding, so I pick up baby to try to wake him. As soon as I change the diaper, baby is awake and crying…success! I help mom with her positioning of the baby and latching. It takes several tries to get baby on the breast, but after about 15 minutes, we are finally able to get him actively sucking. Mom is so excited and profusely thanks me for helping. I leave the room feeling accomplished and sweaty. Helping with breastfeeding is one of the more physically taxing parts of my job.
02:30: I sit down at the computer to do some charting and look at the baby’s bilirubin lab result. While chugging my water I see that the baby’s bilirubin level came back normal. I go tell the parents and they are noticeably relieved.
03:00: Break time! I grab a warm blanket and settle into one of the large lounge chairs in the break area. I typically try to eat healthy while I am at work to avoid feeling sluggish. Today, I have a salad with a variety of exciting toppings, rice cakes, and a La Croix sparkling water. I watch TV on my phone as I munch on my food. During the last 15 minutes of my break, I lay my blanket on the floor and do some stretching while I drink peppermint green tea.
04:00: Feeling refreshed and ready for the last few hours of my shift, I head back to the unit. I give pain medications to a patient, grab a set of vital signs on another, and help with a breastfeeding.
04:30: I get my cesarean section patient up to the bathroom with the help of my tech. While I am in the bathroom with my patient helping her with peri care and Foley catheter removal, the tech is changing the bed linens. The patient stands up from the toilet and says she is feeling dizzy, so we quickly escort her back to bed to relax. She hasn’t slept in over 24 hours, so I encourage her to get a quick nap in before the next breastfeeding.
05:00: I check in on one of my patients I haven’t heard from in a few hours. She is resting in bed with baby skin-to-skin on her chest, and she excitedly tells me she was able to get baby to latch all by herself. I congratulate her and chart about the breastfeeding and a poopy diaper.
06:00: A worried grandmother comes out in the hall seeking help for her daughter’s baby who is spitting up. I hurry into the room and help baby work up the amniotic fluid. I educate the parents on how I helped baby, clean baby up, and put the baby skin-to-skin on dad’s chest.
06:30: My tummy grumbles and I remember about the cookies. I sneak into the break room hoping there are still some left. I snag the last one and hungrily snack on it as I review my charting for the night.
07:10: Feeling a bit delirious, I give report to the day shift nurses. I say goodbye to each of my patients and introduce them to their new nurse. One of my patients gives me a big hug and expresses how much I helped her survive the night. My heart swells as I walk out of the room thinking, “This is what makes it all worth it.”
07:35: I clock out, feeling excited and relieved to have survived another shift.
07:45: Finally home. I am greeted at the door by my very-happy-to-see-me cat. I quickly shower, put on my PJs, turn on relaxing music, and read my book while I snack on nuts and berries.
08:50: Snuggled in bed, I set my alarm for 17:00 and get some much-needed rest so I can wake up and do it all over again!
So you’ve graduated from nursing school, passed the NCLEX, and gotten your first nursing job. All the hard work is done, right? …Not quite. While the path to becoming a practicing nurse may not be the easiest, the reality is that the work is just beginning. Your first year of being a nurse will most likely be incredibly difficult. You are going to struggle as you learn the vast number of skills that it takes to be a nurse in your specialty area. Here are a few tips to help you survive and thrive during your first year as a nurse:
1. Ask questions.
One of the best ways to learn as a new nurse is to ask lots of questions. A lot of people might be afraid to ask questions because then they have to admit that they don’t know something. This is a natural feeling, but remember that you are not expected to know everything. Having the courage to speak up will help you be a more knowledgeable nurse. If you’re not able to ask questions in the moment, try making a list of all of your questions. Then when you have down time later, you can ask your questions.
2. Get to know your coworkers.
During your first few weeks as a new nurse, take some time to get to know your coworkers. Remember their names and say hello to them in the halls. Eventually, over time, you will be able to develop relationships and create a network of people you know and trust. This is not only important for your job satisfaction, but also for your survival as a nurse. Your fellow nurses are the ones who will be there to support you during difficult days, laugh with you after funny situations, and help you in emergencies.
3. Take time to relax.
When you get a day off from work, make the most of it! Don’t think about work, your patients, or your charting. Take time to relax and de-stress. If your mind is constantly thinking of work, then you may be at risk of burning out. Try to find an activity that gets your mind off of work like hiking, hanging out with friends, or reading.
4. Learn how to prioritize.
It is very easy to become overwhelmed as a new nurse. You may have several different patients to care for, or one high acuity patient. Either way, you will have a multitude of tasks to complete during your shift, some planned and some unexpected. Try breaking down your day into hourly increments of time. Within that hour, ask yourself, “What is the most important task I need to accomplish and what is the least important task?” With this method, you will not only be able to organize your tasks, but you will also be able to react appropriately when something unexpected happens.
5. Set realistic goals.
Being a new nurse is extremely difficult. Give yourself time to struggle and learn the ins and outs of nursing. You won’t be a super star on your first day. In fact, it could take you years to truly feel like an expert in your nursing field. With that in mind, set small and realistic goals. By setting goals that are easily achievable, you will build your confidence. Try setting a goal to learn something new every day. This will help you feel successful after learning a new task or fact, rather than feeling defeated and beating yourself up for not knowing something.
6. Stay positive.
Some days are going to be more difficult than others. On these days, remember to stay positive. Every nurse has bad days, even an experienced nurse. If you are having trouble staying positive, try making a list of the things that went well during your day, rather than focusing on the negatives. Your first year as a nurse will fly by, and before you know it, you’ll begin to feel more confident and on your way to becoming an expert nurse.
Graduation. It’s the moment that all nursing students look forward to, but what happens after this highly anticipated day? A lot of what happens next depends on how well you prepared during your last semester.
Here are a few tips to help guide you.
- Apply for licensure with your state’s Board of Nursing and register for the NCLEX exam with Pearson VUE.
In order to be eligible to take the NCLEX after you graduate from nursing school, you must apply for licensure/registration with your state’s Board of Nursing/regulatory body, as well as register to take the NCLEX exam with Pearson VUE. The cost of applying for licensure and Pearson VUE registration varies from state to state. Be sure to set aside several hundred dollars for this purpose. It also takes some time for your registration to process, so plan ahead and talk to your instructors about how far in advance they recommend applying for your specific state.
For more information on this process, visit the National Council of State Boards of Nursing website here.
- Start applying for jobs.
If you are hoping to have a job soon after graduation, you will need to start applying 3-4 months prior to graduating. It may seem counterintuitive to apply for a nursing job before you have your license, but it can take a while for your applications to be considered. Human Resource departments receive vast numbers of applications, and it can take them several weeks to work their way through them before deciding who to interview. Having a job lined up that is contingent upon passing the NCLEX helps relieve the stress of having to job hunt while you are studying.
- Prepare for job interviews.
It is very important to prepare for your job interviews so that you can impress future employers and stand out from the crowd. You can do this by polishing up your resume and lining up your references during your last semester. It’s also helpful to write a strong cover letter that can be tailored to each position you apply for. Take several copies of your resume, cover letter, and references to each interview.
Another major way to impress employers is by looking professional. Invest in a nice suit jacket and slacks or a skirt. This will help you feel confident going into the interview so you make a great first impression.
Be prepared for the questions that the interviewers will ask you by making a list of possible questions and having several detailed stories ready that you can use to illustrate your answers. Practice these with a friend beforehand so that you can become comfortable talking about yourself under pressure.
- Sign up for an NCLEX review course.
One of the best ways to begin studying for the NCLEX is to take a review course. There are several types of review courses. Some classes are purely online, while others are in-person, lecture-based classes. Think about your learning style and pick a class that fits with the way you like to study.
The focus of each class will also vary. Some classes will be strategy-based, meaning that they will teach you how to answer NCLEX-style questions. Other classes will be content-based, meaning that they will give you the basic foundation of knowledge that you will need to have in order to pass the NCLEX. To decide which one is right for you, think about why you typically miss a sample NCLEX question. Is it because you don’t know the information needed to answer the question? Or is it because you don’t understand what the question is asking and how to answer it with the best response? Think about the primary reason for your mistakes and choose the type of review class accordingly.
- Make a study plan.
Much of your time following graduation will be spent studying for the NCLEX. It is important to make a study plan so that you can use your time efficiently. Set aside a chunk of time each day to sit down and study. There isn’t a magic amount of studying that will help you pass the NCLEX, because each person is different. Some people will only need to study 1-2 hours a day, while others may need to study 4-5 hours a day.
It’s a good idea to pick a topic or focus for each day. One day you may work on memorizing lab values, while the next day you may focus on answering questions about psych patients. Picking a focus for the day will help to keep you from feeling overwhelmed.
Don’t forget that graduating from nursing school is a HUGE accomplishment, so be sure to celebrate! Give yourself a couple of days to relax and spend time with friends and family. It is really important not to jump right into studying for the NCLEX because you may burn out quickly.