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Night Shift Workers- How Do You Stay Awake?


I start my first shift as a night nurse on Friday (was just hired yesterday afternoon). I have never done nights and my usual bedtime is 11 pm. Please pass over any suggestions! FYI caffeine doesn't do it for me.

traumaRUs, MSN, APRN, CNS

Specializes in Nephrology, Cardiology, ER, ICU. Has 27 years experience.

You have to sleep during the day - lol! Seriously, I worked nights for 12 years - for the most part it was fine, I was able to sleep well during the day. Believe me, working in a level one trauma center you had no problem staying awake!

Guard your sleep time! Make sure you can get uninterrupted sleep. Good luck.

I don't always stay awake. Fortunately, I sleep pretty well during the day if I go home and go straight to bed. I turn off the phone, leave my cell close by for use only by those to whom I have given it as an emergency #, I have disconnected the doorbell, I sometimes (rarely) take a Benadryl, I have very dark curtains, and I run a fan to lull me to sleep. I sleep about 4 or 5 hours. Then I get up and do stuff I need to do. About 6 or 7 pm, I go down for a few more hours and get up about 9 or 9:30.

At work, I'm ok til about 2 or 3, then start to fade. I am in a setting where I can nod off at the desk and still be near the phone and patients. I work with several others and we have each others' backs. I perk up about 5 and finish my work, although this a.m. I got sleepy about 6 and found I was nodding off while seated and waiting for my relief.

If you are doing this shift by choice it definitely helps.

I am not as sharp and as productive as I know I used to be. I need a catch-up full night of sleep every so often and get this on my days off.

Eat lightly, exercise, run a video or radio to keep you company if your night shift is slow, and don't beat yourself up for nodding off. We all do it. Good luck. I just hope your job is such that you CAN do that.

Quickbeam, BSN, RN

Specializes in Government.

I worked straight nights for over 10 years, 8 hour shifts. You need to make daytime sleep your # 1 priority. I'm completely caffeine free and I never once fell asleep at work (too busy...admits all night).

As to sleeping at work, we've got miles of threads here with heated debate. I think it is absolutely wrong and never tolerated it when I was a night charge. Others feel very differently.

coffeeaddict, LPN, LVN

Specializes in med-surg, cardiac, ICU. Has 4 years experience.

I work 3 twelve hr shifts a week, so I find that my first night back is always the hardest. When I complained to my MD he had me try a pill called provigil. Works wonders, and I only have to take it my first night back. Not what everyone would do, but I felt it was ok to take something so that I wouldn't loose my edge.

It takes some adjusting in the beginning, even if you've worked nights before but it's been a while. Expect it to be hard at first. When you're off, stay up at night as late as you can, when you go to bed set your alarm for early, like 6 am. Get up and go back to sleep in the afternoon. As you keep doing that you'll stay up later at night and sleep more during the day.

RNperdiem, RN

Has 14 years experience.

When I worked nights, I would do a few jumping jacks every hour and try to keep moving. Sitting down for too long made it harder to get up.

Never got enough daytime sleep though. If it wasn't the leaf blower it was the riding lawnmower going around my apartment. No earplug can really block the sound of a leaf blower.

nursenpnk, RN

Specializes in MSICU starting PICU.

Depends on where you work, I work in an ICU and I find myself way too busy to even feel sleepy. When I am tired I try to stay on my feet, walk around the unit and researching my patient for any additional information that could be helpful from previous admissions or even the chart.....just do that in small bursts tho as that can put u to sleep in no time! Good luck to you! I also find that regular sleep and exercise routines definitely help because I get better sleep and am well rested for my night of work 🙂

I just started working the night shift my self. The first night was a killer had to constantly drink coffee to stay awake. But once my body adjusted I'm just fine. What I do, do is the night before I work I stay up as long as I can so I can sleep late and be ready for my night shift. May tea could help I believe tea has more caffeine then coffee.

Elvish, BSN, DNP, RN, NP

Specializes in Community, OB, Nursery.

Keeping busy at work is usually key for me. Don't like crises, but a steady stream of something to do goes a long way. Even if it's really slow and you're just sitting (or standing) folding towels, it beats nothing at all to do.

danissa, LPN, LVN

Specializes in midwifery, NICU. Has 12 years experience.

I agree. Keeping busy is the key to staying awake. Also eating small, light meals, walk around, tidy up or clean out cupboards or the drug trolley, if work is slow. any activity that involves moving around.

I have found the night shift to be the absolute worst time to try to study anything! Head in a book and Mr. Sandman jumps on your eyes!!!! Even if you were wide awake two mins beforehand!

And find a sleep schedule that works for you..everyone is different. Some go to bed as soon as they come home, but I get home at around 08.15..take the kids to school, do some housework, and by half-past ten I go to bed. I sleep right through to 5 pm, get up, shower and eat breakfast and leave for work again at half past six. That works for me!

You will find what works best for you! Good Luck!

pebbles, BSN, RN

Specializes in Trauma acute surgery, surgical ICU, PACU. Has 17 years experience.

We have a walking track at the hospital, it's near the physio department and the security office. 11 laps = 1 mile. So I bring my iPod, and go walking on my breaks. It gets my blood flowing, and helps me stay awake. Plus, cranking up the music and just rocking for half an hour or so is more of a "break" than sitting in any staff room or cafeteria could ever be! :)

Dalzac, LPN, LVN, RN

Specializes in CCU,ICU,ER retired.

I worked nights for close to 30 yrs. The most important thing was learning to sleep in daylight. Now I am retired and the best sleep I get is still during the day. When I worked 8's I would go to bed around 10-11 am get up around 5 cook dinner for the family spend time with them and take a nap for a couple of hours and then go to work.

When I worked 12's, I would get home around 8 and go to bed around 9 am start dinner and let the DH finish it and go to work around 1815.

when I go to bed the phone is turned off and I have a sign posted on the door saying daysleeper When the kids were little I took them to daycare and picked them up around 1600 I had to have my phone on for emergencies I had a girlfriend that would call me every single day to chitchat until I started calling her at 0300 to shoot the breeze. I quit drinking coffee around 3 am so I could go to sleep. It takes some figuring out what works best for you. I loved working nights that after a couple of years I stayed on at nights. It's quiet, no interns and residents taking and keeping your chart, I just got more don at night than I ever could on days or evenings.

grace90, LPN, LVN

Specializes in ortho/neuro/general surgery.

I drink orange juice when I have it with me, that helps perk me up. I've been on nights 3 years. I agree with a lot of the previous posts. Guard your sleep, keep moving during your shifts when possible, and drink lots of water if you can. I only drink coffee as a last resort, if I'm so tired that I start computer-charting in my sleep.

mrod, LPN, LVN

Specializes in ICU/CCU/SICU.

I am not a coffee drinker but I drink an energy drink called High Velocity sugar-free, it is like Redbull but fewer calories and carbs. I drink it around 1 or 2 in the morning. I do not feel jittery or run down when it leaves my body. This is the same stuff I will drink on a workout day as well.

If you are a good sleeper then you should not have a problem. I can sleep anywhere, in cars, on an airplane, on a picket fence if I needed to. I sleep as soon as I get home. Then on my days off I sleep until 1 the latest and go to sleep normal time around 10 or 11 that night. If I have to do another 12 the next day I sleep as long as possible, around 3 or 4. If it is my first night on, I sleep as long as possible in the morning and I usually cannot sleep again before going in but I mope around and take my time unless I am out.

You will find what works for you, I love nights.


Has 20 years experience.

Getting good sleep is critical.

Good diet essential.

Exercise necessary.

And, keeping busy kept me awake w/o a problem.


everthesame, LPN, LVN

Has 12 years experience.

I too find that orange juice perks me up. Same thing with moving around. Caffeine also perks me up, but I have to stop drinking it around 0100 or it will keep me up later when I need to be sleeping.

As others have said, guard your sleep time during the day. It is amazing how some people think that since you are home during the day you are available to talk on the phone or go out to lunch, etc... Some people don't seem to understand that you have to sleep during the day since you don't get to sleep at night...at work.

Good luck in your new position.