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Tips for the Tired: Best Practices for Becoming a Night Shift Nurse

Clever tips they don’t always teach you in nursing school

Those who choose a career in nursing dedicate themselves to helping others at all hours of the day, even when everyone else is sleeping. Though the night shift—which can start as early as 7 p.m. and end as late as 7 a.m.—isn’t always the most popular, it’s an essential time to attend to patient needs. Some nurses prefer the night shift, while others try desperately to avoid it. Working as a night shift nurse can take some adjusting to, and you may need encouragement to keep going, especially in the earliest hours.

Here are some best practices and tips for the tired:

Tips for the Tired: Best Practices for Becoming a Night Shift Nurse

  • DO dress in bright scrubs. When it’s dark outside and you’re stuck indoors, often with muted-colored walls, wearing bright colors can enhance your mood as well as the mood of your patients.*
  • DON’T drink too much caffeine. There’s no doubt that caffeine can give you a boost, but too much can disrupt your circadian rhythm. As a night shift nurse, you’re already battling your body’s desire for sleep, so it’s important to find balance between staying awake and not departing too far from what is most natural.
  • DO remember to eat well. When you’re tired, food can provide much-needed energy; however, it’s best to avoid snacking. Instead, eat a full meal before your shift to combat exhaustion. Make sure it’s well balanced, and if you need a snack late at night, be sure it’s healthy and not junk food.
  • DON’T forget to exercise. Exercise is a surefire stress reducer that contributes to your overall well-being. Try to fit in some physical activity when you’re not working. Consider taking a short walk outside to get fresh air, or do some yoga.
  • DO get enough sleep. Eight hours is generally recommended. Try going to bed at the same time every morning and getting up at the same time every evening to avoid being drowsy during your shift.
  • DON’T fall asleep as soon as you get home. The lure of sleep may be strong, but it’s important to wind down before heading to bed. This can help you sleep better and fall asleep faster. Consider paying bills, spending time with family, watching some TV, or reading a book. When you are ready for bed, try to simulate nighttime in the room.
  • DO use your downtime wisely. Night shifts tend to be less busy than day shifts. While patients remain the first priority, inevitably there is downtime—so put it to good use. For nurses who are also earning a nursing degree such as a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), this could be the time to catch up on reading and other class assignments.

Night-shift work isn’t for everyone, but it can be beneficial for nurses earning a nursing degree online because it allows them to study at convenient times—even if that time is 2 a.m. More than 20,000 nurses have earned their degree online from Walden University’s School of Nursing. Walden University, an accredited university, offers nursing degree programs accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), including the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN-BSN) Completion Program, Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

*B. Wilson, “10 Tips for Nurses on the Night Shift,” The Nerdy Nurse, on the internet at

†National Sleep Foundation, “Sleep Drive and Your Body Clock,” on the internet at

‡, “12 Survival Tips for Night Shift Nurses,” Nursing Link, on the internet at

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,

Walden University’s DNP, MSN, and BSN programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), 655 K St. NW, Suite 750, Washington, D.C. 20001, 1-202-887-6791. CCNE is a national accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and ensures the quality and integrity of baccalaureate and graduate education programs. For students, accreditation signifies program innovation and continuous self-assessment.