Updated: November 10, 2021

Working the night shift as a new nurse or resident can be very difficult. Not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well, especially if you already struggle with things like anxiety or depression. 

When you work the night shift you’re exhausted on a whole new level and you don’t get time to spend with your friends and family or to do things like run errands. This can make it feel like you have no time to yourself and all you do is work! Now, we know this isn’t true. Most of us only work three 12 hour shifts a week, so why does it feel like that and how can you fix it? 

1. Sleep is Non Negotiable

No matter what, you sleep after your night shift. Full stop. You need time to rest and recuperate, whether that’s right when you get home or you treat the early mornings as your evenings and go to sleep later. Make sure you have someone to watch the kids, put a sign on your front door so that delivery people don’t ring the doorbells, wherever you need to do to get those uninterrupted hours of sleep. 

2. Practice Positive Procrastination

This means that some things can wait until tomorrow. Do not treat your days between shifts as days off, they are not. They are time for your sleep. You can put off that grocery shopping trip, or that household chore until your next real day off so that you can really prioritize your sleep time. 

3. Schedule Time with Family and Friends during the Week

Do this ahead of time, weeks, even months at a time so that you know you always have that time with the people you love. During this scheduled time, make the boundaries clear. They need to know that this time is strictly enforced so that you can get into a routine. A routine can really help decrease stress and feeling like you have no time with anyone.

4. Set Clear Boundaries

Set boundaries around everything. Your sleep time, your time with your family, your wind down time, everything and make sure they are all clear with your friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors! This will help prevent changes to your plans and increased stress.

5. Use a Planner

Plot out and time chunk time for self care, time for your friends/family, sleep time, hobby time, etc. This can help you really see it laid out and know that you do have more in your life than work. 

6. Continue Eating Healthy, Drinking lots of Water, and Exercising as often as You Can

And last but not least, and the most obvious, continue to take care of your body. Physical burnout can lead to mental burnout as well as the other way around. Take care of your body every day. 

These six tips can help you feel more like you have a life outside your job as a nurse which helps improve your mental health. Try these few strategies next time you work a night shift week and see if it helps you feel like you get more of your life back.

Sources: 50 State Boards of Nursing, University Websites, U.S. Department of Education, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Ranking Methodology.