Help! How do you stay awake on drive home after night shift??

Nurses General Nursing



I started as a new RN 10 months ago, rotating 12 hour day and 12 hour night shifts (4 week rotations) in a busy metropolitan icu. I actually like rotating days/nights and think it has been beneficial to see "both sides" as a new nurse. I get through the 7p-7:30a shifts without a problem, don't have to nap and have a little coffee at 5a which gets me through . . . but . . . the drive home is another story!

I live 50 minutes away from the hospital. The first 30 minutes into the drive are fine, but once I hit that 30 minute mark, bam . . my body just says "nite-nite". The last 20 minutes of the drive are grueling, my eyes are rolling and even though they are open my mind is wandering and I'm not focusing right. I think I have tried just about everything to keep myself reasonably awake during those last 20 minutes including: loud music, windows down/ac on, drinking apple or orange juice, listening to talk radio, talking and singing to myself, slapping myself on the arms, getting out of the car,walking around and starting again(this keeps me reasonably awake for about 5 minutes). I'm so tired when I get home that I have found myself falling asleep in the shower (no kidding!) and fall asleep so hard once in bed that noise and light are no issue at all (I don't think an atomic bomb would wake me up before 3 pm).

During those last 20 minutes I have had several incidences including veering off the road (even in my own development!), almost running into a ditch and falling asleep at stop lights. But, a couple of days ago, I feel asleep at the wheel for the first time. It was only a few seconds, but when I opened my eyes I was way left of center with traffic coming at me head on. I quickly swerved back into my lane and the fear/adrenaline rush kept me awake for the remaining 10 minutes home (whew). That incident scarred the daylights out of me and convinced me that I must find a job within 30 minutes of the house (in my current job there is no way I could get straight days or even evenings).

I'm now in the process of looking for a new job, but in the meantime I'm still on night shift and will work again in 2 days. So . . . any other suggestions from you night shift nurses about staying awake on the drive home?? I have stayed away from using meds or "power drinks" because I don't want to compromise the precious hours of daytime sleep before going back to work at night. I also have not "napped" in the car along the way because I'm not sure it would work and I'm just sooo anxious to get home to my bed. But I want to hear what works for you . . . safety is definitely the issue here.




18 Posts

My gosh sounds like you need a "normal" shift or you need to live closer to going back to work via life flight becuse of the shift or living to far away is NEVER worth it.:wakeneo:

Otessa, BSN, RN

1,601 Posts

coffee, loud music-that I sing to at the top of my lungs, roll window down. do NOT turn on the heater.....

A fifty minute commute from night shift is too long. Make sure the stimuli you are throwing at yourself in the car are suitably noxious--a/c too cold, radio too loud, etc. Juice won't wake you up, but Jolt might. It won't kill you to take something to help you sleep, if that's the payback for getting home safely. Any chance of carpooling with a coworker?

Too many times I would pull into the driveway and have no clue how I got there. I was very lucky. Others I know were not so lucky. Do whatever you have to do to be safe.

Specializes in NICU/Neonatal transport.

Driving that tired is just as bad as driving drunk, safety-wise. If you need to find a place you can "crash" near work for the shifts that are hard for you, do it. If you are fine, but need a nap halfway through, take it.


675 Posts

I'm just a "pre-nursing" student here, so I don't have any personal experience.... but about 2 weeks ago, here in our hometown.... a newly graduated high school senior was working for the city and was on the side of the road doing some maintenance and a person who was just off the night shift, fell asleep at the wheel, hit and killed her.

It was a terrible, preventable, tragedy.... This poor woman is now going to live with this hell for the rest of her life.

PLEASE! If you feel that you are about to fall asleep as you have described in your post, and there is nothing you can do to keep yourself awake, there is no reason why you can't pull off to the side of the road and just shut your eyes for a while... once you feel a bit rested, you can continue on your way....

I hope you can find a new job closer to your home here soon. Best wishes, and take care of yourself!

Here's a link to the story.... It doesn't say that she was a nurse, but I was told that she was...


232 Posts

Sometimes is not safe to drive.

I pulled over once because I hit the center curb on the freeway. I awoke to EMT's and a policeman banging on the window, and trying to force my door open. They thought I was dead, or real sick. Now that was one deep sleep on the side of the road.

After this I put a note on the dash, and slept in my car for about 15 min. before leaving the parking lot.

TheCommuter, BSN, RN

176 Articles; 27,610 Posts

Specializes in Case mgmt., rehab, (CRRN), LTC & psych.
I live 50 minutes away from the hospital.
I worked the night shift, from 5pm to 5:30am, and lived 116 miles away from my workplace at the time. Tricks that worked for me included using the car's AC to blow cold air onto my face, drinking cola, eating snacks while on the road, and blasting my car radio. I never was involved in any automobile collisions during those years.

Guest neetnik461

0 Posts

I worked the night shift, from 5pm to 5:30am, and lived 116 miles away from my workplace at the time

Wow! You got me beat regarding driving distance that's for sure! But . . . I got 20 years of age on you (I'm 45), that may be part of my problem with staying awake too!!

I occassionally work with a young 30's agency nurse who does 7, 12 hour night shifts a week so his wife can stay home with their baby daughter. He lives about 80 miles away from the hospital and doesn't have any problem driving home night after night. I guess it's just not a problem for some people!

TheCommuter, BSN, RN

176 Articles; 27,610 Posts

Specializes in Case mgmt., rehab, (CRRN), LTC & psych.
Wow! You got me beat regarding driving distance that's for sure! But . . . I got 20 years of age on you (I'm 45), that may be part of my problem with staying awake too!!
In addition, I had hyperthyroidism during those years. Therefore, I never really became sleepy.


80 Posts

You seriously need to pay someone to come pick you up or pay for a motel room close by. Whatever it costs you, it won't be nearly as much as you could lose with an MVA.

Bala Shark

573 Posts

I strongly advise you that after you get off work, stay in the car and wait 30 minutes until you are tired, then take a nap..It will save your life..Please do not drive anymore after work..

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