How to switch to a night shift: 6 tips for nurses

It can be tough to switch from a day shift to a night shift, especially if you’re a nurse. You need to stay alert and provide people with the best possible care, so it’s important to prepare for the change both physically and mentally.

But what does that mean in practice? In this post, we’ll go through some tips and tricks to help you adjust to your new schedule.

1. Make the change gradually

If you can, change your sleep schedule gradually. For example, if you have a few days off before your first night shift begins, push your bedtime forward by two hours each day, then wake up two hours later every morning.

Most people can handle a two or three-hour change in their sleep-wake schedule, and this gentle method can help you avoid “night shift jet lag”.

2. Nap before your shift

No time to adjust your sleep schedule? In that case, the next best thing is a nap. If you usually get up early in the morning, take a refreshing three-hour snooze the afternoon before your shift. If you tend to stay up late, try to catch a 15 to 20-minute nap before getting ready.

It’s important to remember that if you nap for more than half an hour, you’ll go into a deep sleep. This can be restoring, but sleeping for more than 30 minutes can also make it harder to wake up quickly.

3. Create space for sleep

Creating a comfortable space for sleep can help you get a good rest. Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark and quiet, and think about buying sleep aids like blackout curtains, a sleep mask, earplugs or a white noise machine.

One more thing: try to avoid using electronic devices for an hour before you go to sleep. Swapping your phone or tablet for a book can help you feel calm and ready to rest.

4. Get active at the right times

Exercise can help regulate your body clock and improve sleep quality – if it happens at the right times. Try working out after you get up, rather than before you go to bed. Some experts recommend exercising just before your night shift begins, to boost alertness.

Working out can lower stress and anxiety, improve concentration and give you more energy, so don’t skip that run (or walk).

5. Change your caffeine schedule

If you need a caffeine fix to get you going, that’s okay – but make sure you drink your coffee, tea or energy drink before or during the first half of your night shift. Caffeinated drinks later on can keep you awake for too long or disrupt your sleep.

Bonus tip: a power nap mid-shift can give you a bigger boost of energy than yet another coffee.

6. Look for the light

Our brains respond to bright light, becoming more alert and focused. Usually this happens in the morning, but you can recreate the effect by looking for bright light sources during the first part of your night shift.

Some people use daylight lamps to get themselves going before an overnight, while others prefer brightly lit break rooms on shift.

Switching back from night to day

If you need to switch back to day shifts quickly after working nights for a while, you have two main options:

  1. Have a short sleep. After your last night shift, set your alarm for a four-hour snooze – and don’t be tempted to sleep any longer than that.
  2. Stay up as long as you can. If you prefer, skip the short nap and stay up until at least 9.00 pm the day after your last night shift.

Be patient with yourself

Switching from day to night shifts (or night to day) can be a challenge, but the tips we’ve shared should make it easier. Have any other shift-change ideas to share? We’d love to hear about them on social media – you can find us on Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and Instagram.

Florence can help you find flexible shifts near you, take essential training courses and improve your work-life balance. Find out more and sign up today.

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