Nursing Tips: Adjusting to Night Shifts

Discover 6 nursing tips for adjusting to the night shift without sacrificing your wellbeing.

Medical providers are well versed in adapting to new situations, but adjusting to night shifts can present quite the challenge for newly-hired nurses. Working the night shift requires you to develop a disciplined sleep schedule, make time for your other responsibilities, and prioritize your health and wellness while simultaneously providing the best patient care possible. On top of an already hectic profession, this alone can deter those considering a career in nursing.

Although adjusting to night shifts can be difficult, there are many ways to do it without sacrificing your work-life balance. Read on to learn the 6 best nursing tips to help you ease into your new schedule.

1. Slowly Change your Sleep Schedule

One of the most difficult parts of adjusting to night shifts is changing your sleep schedule. Because working night shifts disrupts your natural circadian rhythm, you’ll need to practice regulating it on a new schedule. About a month before your first night shift, try going to bed and waking up 15 minutes later than your normal sleep schedule. Each day, push your schedule another 15 minutes. Allowing your body to slowly adjust to this new schedule will prevent any significant physical or mental problems.

It may be tempting to sleep less to get in more hours of daylight, but getting quality sleep is essential for providing optimal patient care. Experts recommend that 18-64 year-olds get 7-9 hours of sleep per night, so plan your schedule accordingly.

2. Prioritize your Mental Health

Shift work has been proven to have an adverse psychological impact on nurses, making it essential to prioritize your mental health. Implementing a self-care routine can keep you in a balanced state of mind when starting shift work. This may come in the form of exercise, yoga, meditation, or anything else that brings you peace and joy. If adjusting to night shifts begins to severely impact your wellbeing, consider talking with a therapist or a trusted co-worker to help you find a solution. Regardless of if you work night shifts or day shifts, taking care of yourself is one of the habits all nurses should practice regularly.

3. Plan your Shifts Strategically

It’s important to schedule your shifts in a way that works for your lifestyle and allows you to cultivate a sense of stability. While working rotating shifts—a group of night shifts followed by day shifts—may be conducive to your daytime life, studies show that it actually leads to lower job satisfaction and decreased quality of sleep due to a constantly changing sleep schedule. Working strictly night shifts and sticking to your new sleep schedule even on your off days can help you prevent these side effects.

However, if you’d rather return to a more normal schedule after your last night shift of the week, try going to sleep after your shift and waking up in the early afternoon. Take periodic naps throughout the day and try to stay awake until your usual bedtime. Stay awake as late as you can on your last off night and sleep in as much as possible before your next shift.

4. Make Time for your Life Outside of Work

Making time for your hobbies, social life, and responsibilities outside of work can be extremely difficult when working the night shift. Consider using a time-management strategy to schedule out these activities. This may come in the form of a digital calendar, planner, to-do lists, or a traditional calendar. In addition to household chores like grocery shopping and cleaning, make sure to schedule self-care activities like exercise and time with friends and family.

Nursing Tips: Adjusting to Night Shifts

5. Hydration over Caffeination

While it may be tempting to load up on caffeine to get you through a night shift, studies show that overconsuming caffeine can lead to decreased sleep, lack of concentration, irritability, higher stress levels, and elevated blood pressure.

Consuming caffeine and sugar in moderation is fine, but good old H2O will always be the best choice. Drinking the proper amount of water each day (2-4 liters) helps deliver nutrients to cells, improve focus, prevent infections, and keep organs functioning properly.

6. Nourish your Body

Opting for fast food may seem like an easy way to save time in shift work, but it can create serious physical and mental health issues. Instead, try weekly meal prepping. On Sundays, prepare and box up your meals and snacks for the week so you don’t even have to think about what you’re going to eat during your shift. Try choosing nutritious foods that will offer you energy like nuts, granola bars, fruit, vegetables, and other high-protein snacks. You may also want to consider taking vitamin D supplements since you may be deficient from a lack of sun exposure.

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Adjusting to night shift work can be extremely challenging, but can offer a ton of flexibility to medical professionals. By using these tips, you’ll be able to successfully take on the night shift without sacrificing your wellbeing.

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