How to live/eat working the nightshift?


hello all!

after 8 months of trying to find a job as new graduate rn, i finally found one! yay!

of course, i am starting on night shift 7pm to 7am. i have no idea how to have a life on a schd. like this! those of you who do work night shifts when do you sleep/eat? on your days off do you follow a "normal" schd.? i am really worried about gaining weight working the night shift as i have heard many nurses do. also, my fiance works 7am to 7pm so we are going to go 3-4 days without seeing each other :( any advice would be greately appreciated!

thank you!


Specializes in CVICU.

Ever hear the joke "What's the difference between a night nurse and an elephant? About 10 lbs"?

First off, I never had any trouble adapting to a normal eating schedule when on nights. You just behave as if the time you get up is morning/breakfast time and go from there. The worst part for me was remembering to pack lunch and dinner because the cafeteria wasn't open and local restaurants stopped delivering after 9 pm. In fact, I gained weight when I switched to days after 3.5 years! I would advise you to work your 3 shifts in a row so that you're not constantly going back and forth from days to nights. It usually took me about a day to adjust and then I had 3 normal life days, 3 overnight shifts, and then 1 day to adjust back to days. My first night back after being on days I was a little sleepier than normal, but it wasn't so bad.

I would also suggest that if your fiance is on the opposite schedule that you both work the same days. A 12-hour shift eats up your entire day. If you both work the same days, you'll have 4 days off together (which is more than a 9-5 couple gets!). If you don't work the same days, you'll end up (between work and sleep) not really seeing each other at all.

eriksoln, BSN, RN

2 Articles; 2,636 Posts

Specializes in M/S, Travel Nursing, Pulmonary. Has 15 years experience.

I recently transferred from one unit to another because I wanted less nights. On my old unit, there were a limited number of 36hr/wk positions (three 12hr shifts/week full time) so I had to work 40hrs (two 12s, two 8s) and it just did not work for me. I handled nights alright when I was a travel nurse and did three 12s, but never adjusted to doing anything more than that.

If you can do three 12s, its much better. You have four days per week to let your body go back to night sleeping and get out during the day for some sun.

I went from one way of dealing with nights to another and none of them worked right for me:

1. Stay up after work, get things done, go to bed 8hrs before having to get up at night to work again.

2. Go to bed immediately after work, only allow myself 8hrs sleep.

3. Worked all 8s (yep, five 8hr shifts a week), went to bed right away after work, woke up in time to have a few hours to do things before I had to head out to work.

4. Made my room very dark, better for sleeping.

5. Kept a closer watch on what I ate, when I ate and how much caffeine I was using.

In the end, none of it erased the fatigue that dominated my daily life. I finally realized I was not one of these people who could work full time nights and survive. Now, I do about 3 nights/month at my new unit and I already see a great many changes.

Good luck finding something that works for you.


25 Posts

I find myself "snacking" more at night than normal and I did gain about 8 lbs when I went to night shift. Part of that is we have a volunteer that brings us in home "southern" cooking. I go to the gym on my days off and making healthier eating choices at night to get the weight off.

Schedule wise, I work every Thurs, Fri, and Sat.I agree doing your nights in a row are much easier on your sleep schedule. My routine is to sleep in as late as I can on Thursday then go in to work at 7p. When I get off, I take a shower and go straight to bed, hopefully by 9 am. I am lucky and usually have no problems sleeping till about 3. Relax for an hour or 2 and start getting ready for work. I do just fine as long as I get 5-6 hours of sleep. Friday and Saturday, repeat...Sunday I get home, shower, but instead of sleeping till 3, I try and get myself up by 12 or 1. It kinda sucks getting up, but that way I have 2/3 of the day to do what I want and by midnight, I am exhausted and have no problem going back to a normal sleep schedule. Sundays I am a little groggy but by Monday I am fine.

Sometimes things come up during my work week and I don't sleep well, so it takes me through Monday to fully recover, but fortunately I have adapted really well to nights. I actually like it much better than days. I hated getting up so early and having to try and force myself to go to bed early the night before. I ended up getting much less sleep on days because I never went to bed early enough.

Give yourself some time to adjust and you will have to find a routine that works for you....GOOD LUCK!!!


14 Posts

Do make sure that you are getting quality sleep. Modify your sleeping quarters so you have a dark, quiet place where you won't be disturbed. Buy some window shades or curtains that block out the light. I'm a fan of the blackout shades that roll down (you can order them from department stores). If you can't get quality sleep where you live, go somewhere where you can sleep during the day. When my boyfriend started out on the night shift a few years ago he used to come over to my apartment to sleep because I lived alone in a quiet building and he had roommates at the time. I know another nurse who goes over to her parent's house to sleep in a guest room in the basement where it is dark and quiet all day. Also, turn off your phone if you can. It helps some people to run a fan or air conditioner for some white noise. I think the key is to plan ahead and make sure you will be able to get the sleep you need.

As far as eating habits, I would also recommend planning ahead! It can be difficult to resist the urge to snack during the night when you are on shift. I personally had to get over that hurdle. Take some healthy food with you to eat during your shift and STAY AWAY FROM SODA! You will gain weight if you are downing 4 Mountain Dews every night! I stick with black coffee or sugar free energy drinks for pick-me-ups. Keep track of what you are eating and don't eat more calories than you need. Use an online calorie counter to help stay within your "budget". It's easy to increase your intake without realizing it when you work nights, so my best advice is to just keep tabs on how much you are consuming and make time to get some exercise. Working out a few times a week will help keep you sane and it gives you energy!

Good luck to you and I hope it works out! Remember you might have to "pay your dues" for a year or two but you won't have to do this forever. Right now I am picking up night shifts on the weekends to make some extra $$ (working days during the week).


48 Posts

I agree with the above suggestions about a dark, quiet sleep enviroment and watching your

caffeine intake. I work the 7p-7a shift 3 nights a week but on my nights off I stay up until

4-5am to keep on a night schedule. I actually don't like to have my nights off in a row because

I find myself reverting back to a "day" schedule.

I've found that I need some time to unwind when I get home in the mornings, so I don't go right

to bed. I stay up for an hour,hour and a half, and find that I fall asleep easier.

And please advise your family and friends to limit their calls and visits during the hours you sleep.

Take your phone off the hook if you have a land line. Post a sign on your door asking people not

to knock unless an emergency. It may take several reminders to people that you work nights.

But guard your sleep!

Jenni811, RN

1,032 Posts

Specializes in Intermediate care. Has 3 years experience.

i work Day/NOC rotation. So when i do NOC, i get it for like 3 days in a row.

...So i nap before i go to work maybe around 3:00pm til 5/5:30. Shower, go to work. Then when im done with work...i come home, sleep from about 7:30-11:00 am. I wake myself up at 11:00 am so i am tired again by like 3 or 4. If i sleep strait until 4:00, then im just tired again around 2:00am.

You get to know what works for you, and just do whatever works best.

Eat when you can, sleep when you can. Bring something with you to eat or drink. Try to eat something with alot of protein, but avoid meat (contains tyroisine which makes you tried. Kinda like when you get tired after a thanksgiving meal after all that turkey). I usually bring a peanut butter/jelly sandwhich, sounds childish but it works for me...its quick/easy to make/cheap. Or a granola bar of some sort works.

Something with some caffeine as well.

joanna73, BSN, RN

1 Article; 4,767 Posts

Specializes in geriatrics.

I've worked permanent 12 hour nights for 6 months and I love it. I eat breakfast when I get home, and sleep from 0930 to 1700. I don't need a dark room, but some do. When I get up, I eat either breakfast or dinner before work. I cook healthy meals and bring one of them to work (often chicken, rice, veggies). I've actually lost weight on nights. The key is healthy eating throughout, and not eating crap on nights. You won't have enough energy to sustain yourself, especially if it's 12s.


1,188 Posts

Has 14 years experience.

I come from a family of fat, sedentary folks. My people are of thick peasant stock. What I'm saying is that I have a slow metabOlism and I gain weight easily.

I monitor my daily caloric intake from midnight to midnight, and I exercise every day, no matter what. I take my lunch and snacks and I don't order food or eat sweets at work.

When I first started nights, I gained 30 pounds. Since instituting the above elements into my life, I've lost 12 pounds, dropped my cholesterol by 50'points, and dropped my body fat percentage by 10 percentage points. I lift weights 2-3 times a week and run 3-5 miles 4-6 times a week. I'm confident I'll lose another 30 pounds by christmas. I'm sleeping better and feel better than when I worked days, even.

So long post short, the key for me is high protein, high complex carb meals; no ordering food or eating from the vending machines, and daily exercise. I don't have a regular sleep schedule, and I don't seem to need it. Oh, I also take a daily multivit and vit d 3 on days I work and don't run outside.


54 Posts

Specializes in geri,acute,subacute,correctional,pysch,.

I made black out curtains. Basically I went to the local fabric store and bought black out backing. I sewed it into the back of my curtains and soft foam for the top of the window. It made the room pitch black, you couldn't see a thing. I bought a special clock that would simulate sunrise and sunset. I also put and air conditioner in the window. I would come home shower lay down in bed and read a book with the sun down feature set for one hour. By the end of the hour I was asleep . Good luck! Worked for all the years I worked nights.