8 Tips for Improving Sleep for Night Nurses Shifts

8 Tips for Improving Sleep for Night Nurses Shifts

Carolyn Cumper

Carolyn Cumper

Published in MedShop Blog

0 min read

September 22, 2022


Nursing, especially in a hospital environment, is a 24-hour job. Patients often need round the clock care, so it’s essential for nurses to be on site and available every hour of the day. However, staying up all night goes against the natural circadian rhythms of the body. This internal body clock is heavily influenced by daylight and darkness, making us naturally tired at night and awake during the day.


Nurses who regularly take on night shifts are working against their body clock. This can result in sleep deprivation and difficulty sleeping, and lead to long term sleep issues. What’s more, research has shown that people who work at night can become light sleepers and wake up more easily to noises and other interruptions. So, even when they do finally get to bed, they may struggle to achieve a full 8-hours of regenerative shut eye.  

 If you regularly work the night shift, taking the time to address your sleep schedule, and improve the quality of rest you do get, could have a huge impact on your wellbeing. Here are our top tips to help you get that all important rest.


1. Find the Right Schedule for You

As every nurse’s situation is unique, there isn’t really a single average nurse night shift sleep schedule. Some nurses might be able to sleep when they get home from work while others, particularly those with young children or other dependents, might have to get their naps in whenever their commitments allow.

As everyone is different, the best thing you can do is work on a schedule that suits your body, your lifestyle and your shift pattern.


2. Keep it Regular

One of the benefits of working the night shift on a regular basis is that it allows you to work on your sleep schedule. Sleeping at regular hours – even if they’re not at night – can make it a lot easier to fall asleep and to get the rest you need.

Often, a night nurse sleep schedule will involve a pre-shift nap followed by a solid 7 to 9-hour sleep when the shift is over. Try to keep your long sleep at the same time each day. Eventually your body will naturally start to feel tired as your new bedtime approaches.


3. Go Dark

Our circadian rhythms respond to light and dark, so to get into the best sleep pattern for a night shift nurse, wear sunglasses on your way back from work and keep your home as dark as possible. While this technique isn’t perfect, it should help your body to relax and give your brain the cue it needs to release the chemicals required for sleep.

Investing in a set of blackout blinds for your bedroom could help to improve the quality of your sleep. This classic night nurse sleep aid can have a real impact on your body clock and make it easier to stay asleep when you do drop off.


4. Power Nap

If you tend to feel tired during your shift, try to have a power nap before you head to work. Make sure you keep your nap short to avoid falling into a deep sleep as this can make you feel even more tired when you wake up. Generally, 20 to 30 minutes is about right.

You can turbo charge your power nap by having a strong black tea or coffee before you fall asleep. The caffeine should kick in just as you wake up, giving you an extra burst of energy in time for your shift.


5. Keep Caffeine to a Minimum

Although the odd tea or coffee won’t do you any harm – in fact, a lot of nurses wouldn’t get through a night shift without a caffeine kick – try not to overdo it. Drinking a lot of caffeine can make it difficult to fall asleep when you get home, so avoid having any caffeinated drinks during the second half of your shift.


6. Use Earplugs

If you’ve only recently started your night nurse sleep training, you’ll probably find that you wake up very easily, especially if you live somewhere that’s noisy during the day. Being woken up several times during your long sleep can make you feel tired and make working more difficult.

To block out the noise and make sleeping as easy as possible, invest in some good quality earplugs and pop them in when you head to bed. Once you’ve got used to your night shift nurse sleep schedule, you’ll probably find the noise bothers you less and you won’t wake up as much.


7. Eat Well

As a night nurse, sleep is always going to be a challenge and there’s a good chance you’ll feel a bit tired a lot of the time. A good way to boost your energy levels, and give your body a little TLC, is to eat well.

A nutritious diet can have a significant impact on how awake you feel during your shift and how well you sleep at night. Try to eat a healthy, balanced diet full of fruit, veg, nuts and pulses. Drink plenty of water and avoid food packed with fat and sugar.


8. Supplement Your Sleep

There are a variety of supplements available aimed at enhancing sleep quality and aiding in relaxation. Melatonin, a hormone naturally produced in the body that signals the brain it's time for sleep, stands out as one of the most popular choices. If you're experiencing difficulty falling asleep, supplementing with melatonin might be beneficial.

Other sleep-enhancing supplements include magnesium, valerian root, and chamomile tea. Additionally, using lavender essential oil spray on your pillow can also facilitate a more peaceful sleep.

Sleep plays a critical role in overall health and wellbeing, especially for those in demanding professions like nursing. Night shift nurses, in particular, face unique challenges in maintaining a healthy sleep schedule. Ensuring good quality rest is essential for feeling rejuvenated and performing optimally, both at home and on the job. Alongside these sleep aids, it’s also important for nurses to invest in comfortable nursing scrubs, which can make long shifts more bearable and contribute to overall comfort and wellbeing.

Author: Carolyn Cumper's career spans from being a Patrol Officer in Rhodesia to a Paediatric Nurse in the UK, and later a Deputy Hospice Manager in Australia. Her diverse journey includes roles in law enforcement, healthcare, and business, culminating in her significant contributions to Medshop.

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