While working in home-based care has many benefits – increased flexibility, more time with your patients, and often less stress – many home health nurses and aides are still subject to a common complaint of facility-based nurses: the night shift. While night shifts offer a slower pace of work and lead to more ‘downtime,’ they also have adverse effects on your sleep, stress levels and overall health.

What can I expect in a home health night shift?
Shifts can vary, but a typical night shift is 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Just like a day shift, you are responsible for your patient’s needs and expected to be available to help at any moment. While your patient will hopefully be sleeping during the night, you are there to help them get ready for sleep, assist with any nighttime wakings or bathroom needs, deliver ordered nursing interventions, and help the patient get ready in the morning. Common night shift duties include:

  • Feeding, bathing and grooming patients before sleep
  • Prepping patients to get ready to sleep
  • Helping patients use the bathroom
  • Meeting any other personal care needs
  • Providing nursing assessment of the patient’s condition
  • Delivering physician ordered nursing interventions
  • Documenting all assessments, care provided, and interventions

Tips to make the night shift easier:

Take movement breaks, especially between 1-4 a.m.

While you may have significant gaps in direct patient care during the night, try to spread out your tasks to keep your mind and body alert. It’s a good rule of thumb to incorporate some form of movement every 30 minutes. It will be hardest to fight sleep in the early morning hours, from 1-4 a.m., so this is a good time to do tasks like restocking medications, cleaning supplies, etc.

Choose the right foods and drinks to sustain your energy.

Your food and drink choices can either help or hurt you on the night shift. Loading up on processed foods, sugar-laden drinks, and heavy meals can cause your blood sugar to crash and bring on even more fatigue. Instead, opt for blood-sugar-balancing snacks that include protein and healthy fats, such as trail mix, yogurt, or a piece of fruit with nut butter. And don’t forget to stay hydrated with plenty of water. If it’s difficult for you to drink water, try buying a large water bottle with a straw to carry around, or use coconut water and tea for other hydrating options.

Be intentional with your downtime.

When your patient care work is complete, and your patient is sleeping, don’t succumb to exclusively scrolling your phone or TV channels, which can leave you feeling drowsy and sluggish. Use downtime to rest and rejuvenate as needed but aim to stay alert and keep your brain engaged. Here are some ideas:

  • Engage in professional development; read nursing blogs or take an online course
  • Complete crossword puzzles, Sudoku, or brain puzzles that you enjoy
  •  Keep your brain and body moving with light yoga or stretching

Maintain proper sleep hygiene and control your sleep schedule.

There are many different trips and tricks to optimizing your sleep schedule according to your working hours. Whether your night shifts are frequent or sporadic, it’s essential to be intentional and consistent with your sleep schedule. Many people find it helpful to prepare for a night shift by waking up early and taking an afternoon nap before going to work. After your shift, it’s easiest to go home and sleep if your room is as dark as possible, on the cooler side (ideal temperature is about 65 degrees Fahrenheit), and has a source of white noise (i.e., a fan or an app on your phone).

It may take some trial and error, but once you find a routine and some practices that work well for you, you may even grow to love the night shift. Kelly Ceron, Regional VP of Clinical Operations at Maxim Healthcare valued her time working the night shift, “As an RN in home health, I found satisfaction in working the night shift because I knew the household could rest peacefully knowing their family member was in the hands of a competent nurse.”

Start your career in home health today!

Maxim is hiring home health nurses and home health aides. View our current openings.