Some nurses work the day shift and others work the night shift. Then there’s an entirely different group who works both day and night: the swing-shift nurses. Working swing shifts—day shifts and night shifts in the same week or even in two-week period—can be tough on your body. So we asked an expert to give some great tips on how to deal with it and stay healthy at the same time.

Julie Aiken, DNP, RN, CNE, AHN-BC, CEO of Ameritech College of Healthcare for night shift nurses, suggests the following for nurses working swing shifts:

1. Practice staying up—and sleeping in.

Leading up to your next shift, push back your normal sleep schedule a few days before that shift. Don’t totally shift your cycle, since after your overnight shift ends, you’ll return to a (more) normal work schedule. If you can stay up and sleep in even an hour later, it can help.

Other adjustments like going to the gym at night, and doing housework like dishes at 10 p.m. or midnight, rather than when you finish dinner, can also prepare your body for standing and working when it’s usually sleeping.

2. Sleep—and nap—beforehand.

On a similar note, get as much rest the day before your shift as possible. Sleep in late that morning, and if you can manage to carve out even half an hour to nap, do so. The more you’ve rested, the more energy you’ll have during your shift, even if your body wants to sleep.

3. Eat well and pack good food.

The food we eat matters—and affects our energy levels. Before your shift begins, eat some high-energy food like vegetables and complex carbs. You should also pack a similarly nutritious meal, because the cafeteria may not be open, and junk food from vending machine can make you sleepier. Eating high-energy snacks throughout your shift will keep your body’s metabolism going and your energy up.

4. Keep your mind alert.

Some nurses suggest wearing a bright digital watch during overnight shifts to stay focused, even when you’re feeling groggy. Some people sing songs to themselves; others engage in conversation every fifteen minutes, and a few nurses take 30-second breaks and use breathing exercises to remain mindful. Whatever works for you, try it. When you feel sleepiness creep in, engage your mind in some way to remain awake.

5. Don’t rely on caffeine.

If you’ve pulled an all-nighter before, you know the power of coffee—but you may also remember that as soon as its effects wear off, you crash. That’s a risky method when you’re caring for patients and supporting staff during your overnight clinical shift. If you need a boost, try dark chocolate or a little green tea to supplement more natural efforts at staying awake.

6. Remember that tired is normal.

Your clinical supervisor isn’t going to expect you to be as perfectly alert at 5 a.m. as other RNs will seem to be. S/he knows this is practice and experience, so make sure your effort is on your work and assigned tasks rather than fighting off any hint of drowsiness.

Michele Wojciechowski

Michele Wojciechowski is an award-winning writer and author of the humor book Next Time I Move, They’ll Carry Me Out in a Box.

More Nursing News

  • For many nurses new to the field, working the night shift is seen as “paying their dues.” Often, when day-shift positions open up, they move on. But for countless nurses across the country, the night shift isn’t a punishment. In fact, it’s exactly where they want to be. Catching Those…

  • Knowing a few simple breathwork strategies can be a valuable tool for nurses during a hectic workday. While you’re probably most familiar with the pursed lip breathing technique you use on your patients who are short of breath, other types of breathwork can be beneficial to you, the clinician, as…

  • From athletes to those undergoing rehab, people from all walks of life have seen the therapeutic nature of Pilates firsthand. While people are most familiar with Pilates from their gym, it’s the subtle elements of Pilates that make this method different from all the others. Pilates improves coordination, spinal alignment,…

  • Nurses are notorious for not taking their lunches, and although that is probably the worst thing they could do, it is a fact of life in some facilities. On the other hand, not having anything to eat for 12 hours definitely has its downsides. Your blood sugar can drop, and…

  • A good friend of mine used to work shift work, and when the night shift rolled around, she always had problems eating. Some foods made her too tired, while others (like food or drinks with caffeine) gave her problems after her shift was over. She never quite got the balance…

Listen to the Nursecasts Podcast on your Amazon Alexa or Echo

Launch the latest episode of Nursecasts on your smart speaker today or click below to listen online.


You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This