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  • 17 January 2019
  • 19 min read

Top tips to survive the night shift

  • Chloe Lawrence
    Registered Mental Health Nurse

Night shifts are like Marmite - you either love them or loathe them. Either way, they can be hard to cope with since they drastically change your sleeping pattern. Here's Chloe's top tips on how to survive the night shifts!

Play video: Chloe's tips on how to survive the night shift!

Hello guys and welcome back to my channel. My name is Chloe, if you are new here I would love you to hit that bright red subscribe button down below, and of course if you enjoy the video don't forget to give it a big thumbs up.

So today I have got for you another video in partnership with Nurses.co.uk. In case you guys haven't watched any of my previous nursing videos they are a careers website by nurses, for nurses.

If you're currently looking for a mental health nurse job then I would definitely recommend you check out what they've got available on their website and on top of that they also post a lot of great resources on their social media so it's well worth giving them a follow.

And they have a blog with loads of really fab blog posts from all different kinds of nurses so again that's another thing that's well worth checking out whether you're a student or a qualified nurse.

The dreaded night shifts...

Today I thought I would talk to you about night shifts, which for the vast majority of nurses are completely unavoidable, particularly when you first start out in your career.

Obviously as you get higher up, if you go into a more specialist role or a management role or something like that you might not have to do nights but generally when you first start out as a nurse nights are just kind of what you have to do.

I know some people that really love them and like to do just nights and then I know other people that completely hate them, and I always find that really funny that people can have such polarising opinions on them!

But I think it just comes down to your lifestyle you know.

Some people it really suits them to work nights, some people it suits their sleep pattern, some people it just works well because it means they don't have to pay for childcare because their other half is at home at night.

Then on the other hand people hate them because a lot of people feel like  your life is on hold, you don't get to see anyone, you don't get to do anything.

Where I work the way we kind of do things is you do six weeks of day shifts and then you do four weeks of night shifts.

Our shifts are twelve and a half hours long so you will do three nights one week and then four nights the next week, then three nights then four nights and then you're back on days and it's weird, even within night shifts some people prefer to do it differently.

I personally prefer to have all my night shifts together.

I would rather do four nights in a row then have like two nights, a night off, one night, a night off and then another night shift like I would rather just do four nights in a row.

But then I know other people where they would rather do like one or two nights, have another couple of nights off, one or two more nights and I just find it so fascinating that people have such a variant in what they prefer when it comes to night shifts.

Work somewhere accommodating to you

So my first tip for night shift is kind of working out what you prefer and then going to work somewhere that can kind of accommodate that.

Where I work, most people like to do their nights together which works really well because it means one of us will do like Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday night and then the other person will do Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday night because we only have one qualified on a night shift.

So if you are gonna have to do night it's well worth asking a potential employer how it works, how often are you expected to do nights, how many nurses do you have on nights and if the rota is flexible.

All those kind of things those are really important questions to ask before you start a job if night shifts are a concern of yours.

But now we've established that you're gonna have to do nights I thought I would share with you a few tips to make your nights a little bit easier.

I am newly qualified for anyone who is new around here.

I did recently do a video all about kind of my experience as a newly qualified nurse, I will link that up there if you want to check it out!

If you want to find out how to become a mental health nurse as well, check out my blog!

Play video: Chloe shares her experiences as a newly qualified RMN.

I have just recently finished my first set of nights.

So we ended up doing about three months of days initially because as I said you are the only qualified on a night shift, so my ward don't put you on nights straight away.

So I was on the ward for about three months and then I did four weeks of nights which happened to fall over Christmas so I was actually on nights sort of like Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

It was just really bad timing for me to be honest with you because I was on nights then I went to Oslo then I came back on nights, then I went home for a few days to celebrate Christmas then I was back on nights.

Let's be honest with you my first set of nights as a qualified nurse were not fun, they just really weren't.

However I obviously have done nights previously as a student and I also used to do nights at my job that I did before University, so I'd like to think I've kind of got it down now an I've learned to cope with night shifts the best I possibly can so I thought I'd share with you guys a few tips.

So if you are new to Nursing or you just never really managed to get your head around nights hopefully some of these are gonna help you out and make your night a little bit more pleasant for you.

Tell people close to you that you’re working nights

One of the first things I think you can do to make your night shifts a little bit easier is to pre-warn people that you're gonna be on nights.

This might just be family, this might be your friends, this could be your neighbours, your flatmates.

For me an important person to pre-warn is your postman.

I always put a sign on my door saying I'm on nights, then like ‘please don't knock just leave the parcel with a neighbour’ or something.

It might sound really silly but actually pre-warning people can make your life so much easier because people will be noisy if they don't realise they shouldn’t be.

When I was in uni we had a really great system for this where my flatmates and I would have a calendar in the kitchen and we would write our shifts on the calendar so that people would know who's gonna be getting up early the next day, who's on night shifts and it just meant that people would be a little bit more conscious about the noise they were making during the day or, for example, the noise they were making at night, if people were getting up early.

But it’s well worth just letting the people around you know that you're gonna be starting on nights and then that way if they do make loads of noise you can moan at them because you'd already told them you were gonna be on nights!

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Meal prep as much as you can

Another tip is to meal prep.

Now I know a lot of people really struggle to eat decent, vaguely healthy foods when they are on nights because you are just so tired you can't be bothered to prepare a proper meal, it's easier to throw in some chips and take your nuggets in the oven out of the freezer.

I think a lot of people forget that when you're on night shifts there isn't food on the ward like there is during the day, for example where I work we generally will sit and eat with the patients at breakfast, lunch and dinner or now that I live up North - breakfast, dinner, and tea - whatever you want to call them!

But obviously at night time there isn't food around because the patients are asleep, but if you've been asleep all day you won't have eaten and you're still really hungry and there's no food on the wards.

So for me I tried to get into the habit of meal prepping so that I've got things I can actually take with me and eat when I'm on my night shifts, because otherwise you are just gonna end up eating rubbish or you can be really grumpy because there isn't any rubbish food and you're really hungry.

There's kind of different ways you can do this - you can kind of make yourself a meal before you go to work and then just sort of make twice what you need and take the other half to work with you that night.

What I will sometimes do is kind of make a big portion of something and then stick it in individual tubs and take it with me each night you know, you can kind of do this however it works for you.

Play video: Louisa shares her advice on how to survive 12 hour shifts!

Bring snacks!

Along the same kind of lines it is well worth picking up a load of snacks because, let's be honest, everyone gets hungry when you're on night shifts and I like just having snacks around to munch on if I'm a) bored and b) hungry!

However you do want to make sure that you've got a decent variety of snacks.

I try to take with me every night a few healthy options and then a couple of not so healthy options so that when I get there I can pick and choose what I want.

For me I know that when I'm on nights I get really really stubborn so I might take with me two snacks because I think I'm gonna want to eat them and then when I get there I actually don't want to eat those snacks and then I get really annoyed at myself because I don't want to eat the snacks that I've got but I'm still hungry.

Let's be honest your brain is not logical when you're on nights, so I just recommend taking loads of different options with you so you can pick and choose what you want when you get there and you've got a variety of kind of healthier things and not so healthier things depending on what you fancy at the time.

The kind of things I like to take with me are sort of like vegetable sticks and hummus or sometimes take like bread sticks with me again to dip in the hummus.

Fruit’s a really good one, things like nuts, raisins, seeds and then of course you can have a few cheeky things like chocolate, crisps you know whatever your guilty pleasure is.

Stay hydrated

Along the same kind of lines it is really important to stay hydrated when you are on night shifts.

Again if you sleep all day it's quite easy to then forget to drink and all you're gonna end up doing is making yourself feel worse and having killer headaches which is gonna make everything worse.

A lot of people would drink things like coffee and energy drinks when they're on night shifts which actually make you more dehydrated as opposed to hydrating you.

So just make sure if you are drinking coffee make sure you're balancing it out with water, and actually being really hydrated is gonna make you feel a little bit less tired.

I've actually got one of these water bottles where it says like 8a.m.,9 a.m., 10 a.m. down the side and what I will do is I'll take that with me on a night shift and I'll just roll reverse it.

So rather than it being 8a.m. by 10 p.m. I have to drink to that line, so that way I know that I'm staying hydrated.

Invest in items to help you sleep better

I would also recommend that you invest in some decent blackout blinds, blackout curtains, eye mask, earplugs I don't know, white noise machine whatever it is you need to help you get a better night's sleep.

During the day it is gonna be so worth it because at the end of the day if you don't sleep well during the day.

You are gonna be grumpy and moody on your night shift and most importantly you're also not gonna be the best nurse you can be because tired nurses make silly mistakes.

So it is really important for the benefit of your own well-being but also the well-being of your patients to make sure you've slept well during the day, so it's well worth investing in some things that are gonna help you get a decent day's sleep for your nights.

The blinds that I actually have in my flat right now are horrendous because they just let in all of the light so I'm having to use an eye mask, which I personally don't like because I find it quite irritating to be able to like feel it on my face if that makes sense.

Sometimes it will kind of slip up and then the light wakes you up and for me it's just not ideal.

I know a lot of people get on really well with them but for me I would rather use or blackout blinds or blackout curtains, but I live in a rented flat currently so I'm just in the process of trying to work out kind of what I can put up that isn't going to damage the walls so that my landlord won't charge me for it when I move out.

Play video: Chloe shares why she loves being a nurse!

Make sure you’re comfy

I would also recommend when you're trying to sleep during the day to wear your favourite comfiest pyjamas.

For me these are usually the most unattractive ones that you own but that doesn't matter!

The important thing is that you want to be as comfortable as you physically can be because it isn't natural to sleep during the day, your body's gonna be like ‘what the hell are you doing to me’!

So that's why you need to try and make every extra step possible to make yourself sleep or to make it as easy as possible to help you sleep.

Stay awake as long as you can 

I think one of the things that people struggle with most with night shifts it's actually getting into and out of night shifts because obviously it's really hard to sleep during the day if you've slept that night.

So normally what I try to do is the night before I start my night shifts so say my first night shift is on the Monday night on the Sunday night I will stay at home but I will try and force myself to stay awake for as long as I possibly can.

I normally feel really really rubbish when I'm doing this but it means that I can sleep on Monday during the day and then can go to work feeling refreshed on Monday night and I would rather feel rubbish at home when nobody's under my care than when I'm at work and I'm tired because I haven't slept during the day.

The hardest thing about doing this is just keeping yourself occupied because the trouble is if you sit down and watch TV the chance though you're gonna fall asleep so I usually try to keep myself occupied by meal prepping.

I also usually like to bake cakes when I'm trying to force myself to stay awake for night shift so I'm always popular with the staff for night shifts because I always bring in cakes!

One thing that I've tried to do is maybe go to the gym because I do belong to a 24-hour gym so I keep thinking that it'd be a great idea to go to the gym in the middle of the night when I'm trying to force myself to stay awake before my night shifts, but that just did not happen during my previous sets of nights because I was just so busy.

This is my goal moving forward with nights.

I would love to start going to the gym in the middle of the night on the nights when I'm trying to stay awake in preparation of night shifts and then when you finish your night shifts and again this is really not nice but it kind of has to be done.

I would suggest you come home and sleep for just a couple of hours to tide you through but then force yourself to get up again.

You're gonna feel really rubbish for the rest of that day but at least then you can sleep that night and then you should be able to get your sleeping pattern back to normal as soon as possible, whereas if you sleep most of that day you're not going to sleep at night and then you’ve messed up, your sleep pattern just carries on even though it is horrendous.

I would suggest when you finish your nights just sleep for a couple of hours and then pull yourself out of that bed, go for a walk, go do your food shopping go to the gym do whatever it is you need to do to keep yourself busy so that you can sleep that night and get back into days.

Still do the things you love

Another really important tip in my opinion is to make sure that you're still doing what you enjoy when you're on nights.

It's so easy to just get into a routine of working, coming home and sleeping, getting up, eat a meal take a shower, go to work, but actually that's what's gonna make you miserable when you're on night shifts.

So I always suggest that sometimes but you know not all the time, it's worth getting up a little bit earlier before your shift to go and do something that you enjoy.

That might just be meeting friends for dinner before you go to work or having a nice long bath.

Sometimes having a tiny bit less sleep but doing something that you enjoy is actually gonna make you feel better, because you're still gonna feel like you're living your life even though you're at work when everyone else is asleep.

That for me is one of the reasons why I hate nights because I feel like everyone's going about their life and I'm just kind of not doing anything other than working, sleeping, eating and going back to work.

So at least if you still do a couple of things that you really enjoy whilst you're on nights you won't feel quite so bad about your whole life being a bit topsy-turvy.

Treat yourself once your night shifts are over

Again along the same kind of lines, plan yourself a nice treat for after your night shifts are over.

So if like me you do four weeks of nights you might want to plan like a little treat after each week of nights and then maybe something a bit more special after your fourth week of nights when you can finally say you're done with nights and you're back on days.

I always find that having something to look forward to just keeps me going.

I use this all the time, whether it be through exam seasons when I was doing my degree, anything like that I always try to have something nice planned quite soon after the bad thing finishes so I just find that it helps to motivate me.

At least if I know that, yes these nights are terrible, but next week I'm gonna go to the theatre or I'm gonna go and do this fun thing or I'm gonna go on a date night with my boyfriend, at least if I've got that fun thing in my mind it'll kind of keep me going through the nights.

And those are all the tips that I wanted to share with you in this video make sure to leave me a comment down below because I would love to know what are your tips, if you've ever done nights or even just pulled all-nighters.

I would love to know what your tips are for sort of keeping yourself going because I'm sure you guys will have some great ideas that I've never thought of before and then with my next night comes around I will be extra prepared!

Don't forget to hit the thumbs up if you found this video helpful and of course subscribe because I always put out nursing content every month and then in between that there is just so much other content going on here don't forget to check out Nurses.co.uk all their links will be in the description down below.

I will see you again next time! 

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About the author

  • Chloe Lawrence
    Registered Mental Health Nurse

I qualified as a Mental Health Nurse (RMN) in August of 2018 and started as a newly qualified nurse shortly after. On top of nursing I juggle creating content for both my YouTube channel and blog.

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  • Chloe Lawrence
    Registered Mental Health Nurse

About the author

  • Chloe Lawrence
    Registered Mental Health Nurse

I qualified as a Mental Health Nurse (RMN) in August of 2018 and started as a newly qualified nurse shortly after. On top of nursing I juggle creating content for both my YouTube channel and blog.