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Tips for Nursing Students and Working the Night Shift

At some point in their careers, many nurses work the night shift. The transition to shift work can be difficult due to the interruption of regular sleep cycles and the failure to achieve restful daytime sleep. Night shifts largely affect the nursing workforce, but they can also affect students. The clinical rotation part of a degree program may mean some night shifts. Those nearing completion of a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program may hesitate to accept a night shift position with a prospective employer because of these stressors. Luckily, the transition does not have to be disastrous; nurses working the night shift can restore their work-life balance with only a few adjustments.

Night Shift Logistics

Healthcare facilities do not run on a standard schedule. When most people are heading to bed, a substantial number of the nation’s 18 million healthcare workers may be starting their days. Because patients require around-the-clock treatment, nurses often have to work overnight. While hours vary, a typical night shift may run from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Twelve-hour overnight shifts are not uncommon either, with nurses beginning their shift as early as 7 p.m. and working until 7 a.m.

Studies show that shift workers may be more susceptible to disease and illness, including cardiovascular and metabolic disorders as well as certain types of cancer. Taking steps to minimize the health effects of an overnight schedule is imperative.

Tip #3: do not skimp on sleep.

Night Shift Tips

While a stint on the night shift may be unavoidable, there are several things that nurses can do to cope with the erratic schedule.

1. Get — and Stay — On a Sleep Schedule

It can be difficult for nurses who are new to the night shift to figure out a sleep schedule. While completing their BSN online, students may have settled into a particular schedule and can be unprepared for the transition to an 8- or 12-hour night shift. It can take time to find a schedule that works, but it is extremely helpful to maintain it, even on days off.

2. Create a Sleep-Friendly Environment

Getting restful sleep during the day can be challenging, but it is necessary to maintain your health. Between the sunlight and potential disruptions like phone calls and doorbells, establishing an environment that is conducive to sleep is key. Invest in room-darkening curtains or shades to block out light. Turn your cell phone off and consider using ear plugs to minimize noise.

3. Do Not Skimp on Sleep

Estimates show that more than half of night shift workers sleep six or fewer hours each day, while experts recommend a minimum of seven hours. One study found that a quarter of nurses regularly go without sleep for 24 hours or more to adjust to night shift schedules. This can lead to sleep deprivation, which can be dangerous for both nurses and patients. To ward off the devastating effects of sleep deprivation, plan to sleep eight or more hours per day and never go without sleep before a shift.

4. Exercise and Eat Healthy Foods

It is important for nurses to practice self-care. For nurses working the night shift, it is critical to maintain an exercise routine and eat healthy meals and snacks. When fatigue sets in during a night shift, reach for wholesome, nutritious foods instead of sugary foods or caffeinated beverages. A brisk walk during a break can help energy levels too.

5. Take a Training Course

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) offers a free online training course to help nurses manage the challenges of shift work and long hours.

Conquering the Night Shift

For nursing students and nurses working the night shift for the first time, the transition can be difficult and intimidating. However, by practicing self-care techniques and developing a sleep-friendly schedule and environment, nurses can conquer it with relative ease.

Learn about the UT Arlington online BSN program.


A Hard Day’s Night: Training Provides Nurses with Strategies for Shift Work and Long Work Hours. (2015, May 18). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

A Sleep Strategy Commonly Used By Night Nurses Throws Off Their Circadian Clocks. (2011, April 15). Medical News Today

Royalty-Bachelor, E. (2015, December 1). Sleepless Night: The Eye-Opening Facts About the Risks of Shift Work. American Association of Nurse Assessment Coordination

Stokowski, L. A. (2016, August 5). Should Night-Shift Nurses Nap at Work? Medscape

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