How to: Survive a night shift


Top Tips on how to survive a night shift

With nursing essential around the clock, night shifts are a necessary and important part of your career in the NHS. Whether you are a night owl or a morning lark, sudden changes to your normal sleep pattern can be tough – not just on your body, but on your mind too. Love them or hate them, we have compiled this handy guide to help you fight the fatigue and get you through them!

  1. Rest well to be well rested – The key to getting through a night shift is to be well rested. Try and take a 30-minute nap before the start of your shift to help you feel refreshed and ready to start. Just be careful not to snooze your alarm too many times as this could have the opposite effect and leave you feeling groggy. Also, while it may not be possible, or practical, to take naps during your breaks, if you’re feeling tired try and at least put your feet up and relax for 10-15 minutes – short periods of rest can help raise your energy levels.
  1. ‘Breakfast’ is the meal of champions – Following a similar eating pattern to the one you normally follow will help get you in the mind-set of working through the night. Eating a nutritious and well-balanced ‘breakfast’ before your shift starts will help your energy levels until your break when you can have your ‘lunch’. Avoid fried, spicy or processed food as these are harder to digest and can leave you feeling lethargic. Instead, fill up on fruit, veg and slow release carbohydrates such as potatoes or pasta.
  1. Caffeine, caffeine, caffeine? – While you may think coffee and energy drinks are you friends, they can be detrimental to you on a night shift. Whilst in the beginning of your shift, it can give you a much-needed boost, make sure you stop your caffeine intake at least 4 hours before you’re due to leave so you’ve got plenty of time for the effects to wear off to make sure you get the sleep you deserve the next morning.
  1. Stay hydrated, drink water! – Dehydration can leave you feeling fatigued because it affects the flow of oxygen to the brain and results in your heart having to work harder to then pump the oxygen around your body. This leaves you feeling more tired and a lot less alert. Keeping hydrated helps to keep you energised!
  1. It’s all in the lighting – The brain releases the sleep hormone ‘Melatonin’ in response to darkness which makes you feel tired, regardless of how much sleep you had before your shift. Whilst the wards will have dimmed lighting for patients, it’s important to take breaks in a well-lit area of the hospital as this will help trick your body into thinking it’s day time and relieve some of that fatigue.
  1. Nutritious, and delicious – Food is a great way to give you an energy boost when you need it most. While it may be tempting to head to the nearest vending machine for a sugary treat, this won’t help keep you awake in the long-run – after the initial sugar kick comes the inevitable sugar dip. Instead, here is a list of snacks that can be pre-prepared and are bursting with nutrients to give you the energy you need.
  • Bananas – Good source of carbohydrate, potassium and vitamin B6.
  • Eggs – Good source of protein, leucine and B vitamins.
  • Apples – Good source of carbohydrate, natural sugars and antioxidant qualities.
  • Nuts – Good source of protein, carbohydrate and healthy fats.
  • Dark Chocolate – Good for increasing blood flow which helps the delivery of oxygen to the brain and helps keep you energised.
  • Oranges – Good source of vitamin C, antioxidants and natural sugars.
  • Seeds – High in plant-based omega 3 fatty acids, fibre and protein.
  • Green Tea – Good source of caffeine, L-theanine (which breaks down the negative affects of caffeine; shakes etc) and helps release the hormone norepinephrine which decreases fatigue.
  • Popcorn – Good source of carbohydrate, fibre and a great low calorie, energy-boosting snack.
  1. Feeling the pressure? – According to studies, there are 5 key acupressure points that you can self-administer to give you a boost and keep drowsiness at bay. Try rubbing the back of your neck, massage each of your hands between the thumb and forefinger, knead the top of your calves, gently tap the top of your head, and massage just under the balls of your feet.
  1. Keep busy – While night shifts can typically be slower than a day shift, keeping busy is a relatively easy task in between patient care, paperwork and prep for the next shift. However tempting it may be, try not clock-watch, as this can increase fatigue and make the night feel longer.
  1. Chat with your co-workers – Who better to get you through your night shift than fellow night shifters? Not only will this help break up the shift and help keep you alert, but it’s also a great way to get tips for survival from night veterans and share some of your own too! Remember you’re all in this together and part of the NHS family!
  1. Bellows Breath – Originally used in Yoga, this breathing technique is supposed to stimulate the diaphragm and send signals to the body to increase your alertness. Simply inhale and exhale rapidly through your nose (with your mouth closed) with short, quick breaths. Do this for around 10 seconds then breathe normally for 10 seconds, repeat the steps several times.
  1. Move it! – Regular exercise can fight fatigue, increase alertness and release endorphins which will keep you feeling upbeat. There are simple ways to get more exercise while on shift. Take the stairs instead of the lift and walk around the ward to help keep you active during the quieter periods.
  1. Sleep, Sleep, Sleep – In order to function properly after a night shift, you ideally need 7 to 9 hours of sleep. Try and set aside this time during the day to help with your recovery. Put your phone on silent, draw the curtains to make the room as dark and as quiet as possible to mimic night-time, and have a quick drink and snack before you hit the sack.
  1. Don’t delay – Don’t delay your sleep when you get in from work. In the same way that darkness can make you feel sleepy, day-light will make you feel more alert and means it’ll take you longer to fall asleep.


Do you have any tips for surviving your own night shift?

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About the author

NHS Professionals administrator

NHS Professionals manages the temporary staffing needs of around 66 NHS Trusts across England. An integral part of the NHS, it aims to reduce Trusts’ spending on flexible workers without compromising quality, by providing greater transparency of demand and supplying bank staff at the best possible rate. Its bank of more than 40,000 flexible workers comprises general and specialist nurses, doctors, midwives, admin/clerical , allied health professionals, healthcare scientists, support services among other healthcare professionals.

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