How to Prepare for Night Shift as a CNA

As a CNA, you know that the night shift can be challenging. You’re sleep deprived and your body is trying to adjust to its natural circadian rhythm. Your patients are either sleeping or unconscious so there aren’t as many distractions from other nurses, but the work is often more intense and demanding and it’s harder for you to take care of yourself. It’s also hard on your family because they don’t see you during the day when they come home from work or school. This blog post will give 15 tips on how to prepare for those long nights at work.


1. Sleep well before your shift

One of the best things you can do is to get enough sleep in the days leading up to your night shift, so that you are well rested on the weekend when you have some time off. You should be getting around eight hours of good quality sleep each day plus one or two naps if possible during your down time between shifts.

Try turning your bedroom into a sleeping oasis with blackout curtains and soothing nightlight so it’s easier to fall asleep once you’re in there. If necessary, adjust your schedule by making sure that major chores are done by 10 p.., giving yourself plenty of time to wind down.

2. Exercise during your time off work if you can

It’s more difficult to fit exercise into your chaotic weekend schedule when you’re on the night shift, but even some mild activity will give you a better shot at feeling energized on Monday morning. Get up and take a walk with some friends or family members, get outside for a few minutes of sunshine, which has been shown to boost mood, or get to the gym early before all of the machines are taken. 

3. Eat healthy

Make sure that your diet is consisting of nutrient-rich foods including vegetables, fruit and proteins so that you have enough energy to function throughout your shift without being famished once it’s over. Try packing healthy snacks for work such as baby carrots, nuts and whole-grain crackers. If you do get hungry during your shift, there are snacks that can be kept on hand at the nurses’ station such as dried fruit, low fat popcorn and healthier versions of chips.

4. Get plenty of fluids

It’s easy to get dehydrated while working night shifts until you’ve adjusted to it. This is due in part to the fact that we often forget to drink water while we’re awake because we’re so focused on our other tasks. Avoid dehydration by drinking a glass of water every time you take a break and make sure it’s good quality H2O instead of sugary drinks or caffeine which will zap your body of its energy reserves even more quickly.

5. Get some air

Walking with dogs

Open up all of your blinds, curtains and windows during the day so that you can get plenty of natural light which will help to regulate your internal clock. If it’s too cold outside, turn on a bright light in the room where you sleep or sit near a window during the day to let that sunlight pour into your home. At night, you’ll want to avoid any bright lights including turning on any lamps in your house because this can further confuse your brain about when it should be sleeping and when it should be awake.

6. Relax before going into work

It’s hard to slow down after running around with kids all weekend or rushing through errands but try taking a hot bath or shower before your shift to help you relax. You can also listen to calming music, meditate or practice progressive muscle relaxation where you consciously tense and then release each part of your body. Taking care of yourself before work will boost your mood so that you feel energized rather than overwhelmed when it’s time for your shift to begin.

7. Eat dinner earlier than normal if possible

Even though it may seem impossible with how busy everyone seems to be these days, try eating dinner at least three hours before bedtime because food in your stomach can disrupt sleep just like drinking caffeine later in the day would do. If you absolutely must eat after this time frame, make sure it’s something light like milk and cereal or toast without any butter or jelly on it because fatty and sugary foods can disrupt your sleep cycle.

8. Avoid caffeine and other stimulants that day

While this may be difficult if you’re feeling tired or you need that coffee to feel alert, try limiting your intake of caffeine including soda, tea and chocolate to the morning hours before lunchtime. Caffeine can make it harder for you to fall asleep when you go to bed at night which will only prolong the time until your body adapts to working nights.

9. Get those house chores done now

Before you head off to work, try doing as many household chores as possible so that you don’t have to worry about them hanging over your head all shift long. You can even ask a family member or friend for help with things such as the laundry and cleaning the kitchen if you’re just too exhausted before going into work.

10. Plan ahead if at all possible

Sometimes we’re just too busy during the day with caring for our children or working at another job that there’s no time left to plan out our meals and activities ahead of time for the weekend and night shifts. If this is your situation, try making a big meal early in the morning before heading off to work so that it will be ready for you to eat during the night. You can also prepare a list of things that need to get done by a certain day so that you have more time for yourself when it’s necessary.


11. Leave the radio off

While most people rely on music or talk radio to help them stay awake while driving home from work, try turning this habit into a bad one by leaving the radio off when driving home after your shift. Just like with eating fatty and sugary foods before bed, having loud sounds playing in your ear can also make it harder to fall asleep when you finally do arrive at home.

12. Have the kids go to bed early

Sometimes getting your children ready for bed can take just as long as waiting for them at daycare during the day so ask them whether they’d like to read in their bedrooms quietly with a parent or spend this time watching television instead. Although having fun with your children is important, you don’t want them to be accidentally keeping you awake during the night or distracting you while working.

13. Try not to stress out about things while working

While it’s nearly impossible not to worry about various responsibilities and upcoming events especially if you’re still caring for young children during the day, try keeping this kind of stress at bay while working nights because it could make sleeping more difficult. If something truly stressful comes up such as an unexpected bill, try talking to your spouse or someone else on the phone during breaks at work about what you can do about it.

14. Have a steaming cup of chamomile tea

Chamomile tea has been known for its ability to help soothe nerves which can reduce stress and tension all over the body including in your neck and shoulders where most people mention having problems relaxing. You can even try mixing in some honey with your tea for an added sweetness that will help you to relax without ingesting any refined sugars before bedtime.

Can't sleep

15. Don’t stay up unusually late

Try to stick to your regular sleeping schedule on the weekdays as much as possible because it will be a little harder for your body to adapt if you’re not living by its rules. If you do have some time after getting home from work before bed, try doing some relaxing activities such as reading a book or taking a warm bath before going into your bedroom and shutting off all of those bright lights.

After reading this article, hopefully I could help inform some nurses out there (especially new ones) that night shifts and other long work hours can be a difficult adjustment. If you’re just starting out in the medical field, don’t get too discouraged if it takes several months before you get used to working nights or rotating shifts. Despite this, try your best to enjoy your new job because you’ll end up missing it more than ever when you finally go off to college or start pursuing another career instead.