1. Prepare yourself
Try to get some good sleep the night before to make sure you are as well rested as possible. If my shift starts at 9pm, I try to have a two-hour nap in the afternoon. Remember to keep your room cool, dark and put your phone away to reduce distractions. Only use it for your alarm if needed.
2. Bring snacks
I find small healthy snacks work best as a big meal can make me feel sleepy. They allow me to gain sparks of energy during a night shift, especially when I start having my 4am crash.
3. Get to know your patients
Night shifts can be a valuable time to introduce yourself to patients, look through their medical notes and check in with them. If some of my patients are still in their chair waiting to go to bed, I like to help the health care assistants get them prepared.
4. Check and review care plans
Between answering call bells, new admissions and a busy nursing station, it can be hard to find the time to review care plans. With the whole night ahead, why not use some of the time to review them and ensure they’re up to date? It will earn you brownie points and improve your knowledge and confidence.
As a student you could consider using the quieter times on shift as an opportunity to reflect on your current placement and document your learning.
6. Get some practice in
Night shifts are a good opportunity to ease your way into management. If you’re starting off, just ask the mentor or staff nurse you’re with for the night if you can have a go at managing a patient or two. Once you’ve tackled this you may want to ask for more the following night.
7. Remember to drink water
I love a coffee but the most important thing is to stay hydrated as this can help with alertness. Make sure you drink a lot of water to get you through the night.
8. Stay active
Resist the temptation to sit down during the quieter periods. Instead – keep on the move. Trust me, it helps!
The RCN has guidance on the occupational health and safety of shift workers called A Shift in the Right Direction. It offers advice on all aspects of shift work including preparing for a night shift and what nursing staff should expect from their employers.
Regarding getting home safely it says: “The end of a night shift is recognised as a high risk period for car accidents – particularly towards the end of a few back-to-back shifts. If you are dependent on a car to get you to and from work then be vigilant to the risks of fatigue. If you do feel yourself falling asleep at the wheel then pull off the road if it is safe to do so and have a short nap.
Avoid driving for a long period or a long distance after a period of night shifts or long working hours. While it may be tempting to travel directly to visit family and friends and spend your days off with them, it would be advisable to have a rest or sleep first and travel later in the day.”