This content was updated for accuracy and relevance on September 17th, 2020.

If you are taking your first night shift as a travel nurse you are either excited or nervous. For night owls, a travel nursing night shift might sound like a dream come true. For a non-night shift worker, it might sound like a change in lifestyle that you are wondering how to prepare for. No matter where you fall in the spectrum, these 12 travel nurse tips to prepare for night shift work will help you.

The fact of the matter that working the night shift is common. Most nurses will work night shifts during their careers. Working the night shift does present a lot of positives. It tends to be quieter. Less patients and less employees. Working night or evening shifts does require some preparation. Follow these 12 travel nurse tips to prepare for the night shift to succeed during this important shift.

The Importance of Restful Sleep

1) Make Restful Sleep A Priority.

You might think you only need 5 or 6 hours of restful sleep per night. After all, you’ve been doing it your entire life. The problem is you are now making a drastic change to your schedule. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7 – 9 hours of daily sleep for adults. Yes, that includes nurses; especially a travel nurse working the night shift. It is important to make your sleep quality a priority. Night shift nursing is an important job and for the safety of your patients, it is crucial to fine-tune your sleep schedule. Also, find out how to work around the circadian clock. This is what forms your body’s inclination to follow a 24-hour cycle. Look into the best practices for planning your new schedule around the circadian clock to be successful in your new night work schedule.

2) Take Naps.

There is no getting around the importance of restful sleep to function at the top of your game. Getting enough sleep allows you to provide the best care for your patients. Leading up to your night shift make sure you pencil in time to get some healthy daytime sleep. Taking a regularly scheduled “power nap” will allow you to gradually change your sleeping habits to prepare for your night shift.

Plan Ahead For Life As A Night Shift Worker

3) Understand Your Current Lifestyle.

Having a drastic change in your working conditions will impact everyone. The key is to analyze your current schedule and understand your routines. How many hours of sleep do you need? How frequently do you eat? When do you exercise? At what times do you typically start to feel fatigue set in? Once you have a better understanding of your schedule, you will start to fill in your new schedule. You will determine when you need to go to sleep and what time you need to wake up. You will also be able to plan out your eating/snack schedule and when to exercise. If working the graveyard shift changes your current lifestyle, it may be a good idea to do a trial shift before jumping into a night shift job. This can help determine if you can cope with your changing lifestyle.

4) Write Down Your New Plan.

Your new night shift schedule will impact normal activities. When will you go to the grocery store? When will you do laundry? Writing down a plan will help you stick with you. Your first few days could be tough to stick to your new schedule. Having something you can reference will allow you to stick with and make your night shift a success. As your work environment and night shift schedule change, so does your lifestyle. Make time in your new schedule for a social life, exercise, and self-care to help balance your working life and personal needs. 

5) Prepare Your Home.

Your transition to becoming a night shift nurse doesn’t just impact you. As a travel nurse preparing for the night shift you will want to prepare your home. If you live with someone else, inform them of your change in schedule and transition to an evening shift. Explain your new routine. Set a schedule with your roommate filled with quiet times to maintain your new sleep pattern and an updated cleaning schedule. If you have a pet, make sure you prepare them for the new schedule. Introduce them to a new walk schedule. Maybe you have someone check in on them while you are gone.

Establish a Routine

6) Keep Your Schedule Consistent.

One key tip that most experienced travel nurse night shift nurses will do is group shifts together on consecutive nights. If this is a possibility for you, this is something to consider. Your first consecutive day off can help you get caught up on any sleep you might have missed. That’s normal. However, on your last day off you want to make sure you get back to your sleep schedule. Stay up late. Take naps. Get ready for your day back. Don’t fall into a bad routine of sleep deprivation or an inconsistent sleep schedule. This will ultimately affect you and your patients in the long-run. 

Eat and Drink Appropriately

7) Make Healthy Food Choices.

The food we consume has an impact on our energy, performance, and general mood. Those are amplified when you are working a night shift. It is important to eat food that will provide energy or make you “crash and burn.” Pack well-balanced meals that are high in protein and low in fat. It’s also a good idea to consume smaller, more frequent meals such as a healthy snack to keep performance at levels needed. It is also important to snack throughout the day or during your night shift. Working long hours without a break is not uncommon, therefore you may not always have adequate time for a full meal. Keeping snacks handy can help keep you energized and ready for your patients. Need help? Check out this list of healthy meal planning tips for travel nurses.

8) Stay Hydrated.

It is important you drink plenty of water as a night shift travel nurse. Drinking plenty of water coupled with healthy food choices will keep you stay energized and be alerted when called upon. Drinking plenty of water can also keep you awake throughout your shift.

9) Don’t Overdo Caffeine.

Coffee and other beverages provide a benefit to a travel nurse on a night shift. However, it is important to drink caffeinated products wisely. Drinking too much caffeine can make you jittery and not productive. Like most things, drink caffeinated beverages moderately. Becoming reliant on a caffeinated drink too close in your sleep pattern, as it could interrupt your ability to achieve a healthy sleep schedule with full circadian rhythm cycling. This can in turn cause you to develop a mild form of a work sleep disorder. So always drink caffeine intentionally.

During Night Shift Success

10) Move Around To Reinforce Alertness.

As a travel nurse working the night shift, you will experience fatigue. It is historically slower and you could become tired. When the night drags on and darkness fills a room, our body releases natural melatonin that results in sleepiness. When that happens, get up and move. Go for a walk, climb stairs, dance, drink caffeine (in moderation of course). It’s important to not allow yourself to stale.

11) Bond With Co-Workers.

When times are slow, it is a great time to get to know your co-workers. Find out things you have in common. Who knows, you might both be travel nurses taking on a new graveyard shift. Getting to know your co-workers not only allows time to go by faster, but it can also develop a lasting friendship.

Get Home Safely

12) Drive Safe & Avoid Fatigue Behind The Wheel.

After working the night shift it is common to feel sleepy. If that happens, it’s not worth it to get in your car and drive home. No matter how close you live. The Transport Accident Commission states that around 20% of fatal road accidents involve driver fatigue. There are plenty of things you can do to get home safely. You can take a nap, exercise, or get a ride home. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Host Healthcare Travel Nurse

Host Healthcare offers an extensive list of travel nurse jobs. Call one of our friendly recruiters at (800) 585-1299. We are here to help you to get started.