5 Tips to Help CNAs Survive (and Thrive!) Working Night Shifts
Most CNAs are either required or want to work night shifts at some point in their careers. Adjusting to a schedule that feels backward to your normal routine can take some time, but it’s possible to transition into working the night shift and even find satisfaction and joy with your new schedule.
Whether you consider yourself a night owl or love waking with the sun, flipping your days around will take some getting used to. Giving yourself plenty of time to make the adjustment and ensuring you don’t slack on sleep can go a long way toward making the process more seamless. Keep reading for our best tips on surviving—and thriving—as a night shift CNA.
1. Turn Day into Night
Your body has a 24-hour internal clock called a circadian rhythm that regulates your sleep-wake cycle. According to the CDC, bright lights two hours before bedtime can make it difficult to fall asleep and shift your sleep time for even later.
Because you’ll be finishing your shift when the sun is already up, it’s important to try and protect your circadian cycle by keeping lights dim to signal to your brain that it’s getting close to bedtime. Wearing dark sunglasses on the commute home can help, as can waiting to look at your phone or other digital devices that emit circadian rhythm-disrupting blue light until after you wake up.
In terms of your room, set it up in such a way that it feels like night when you’re ready to hit the sack. Invest in high-quality blackout curtains, keep a set of earplugs and an eye mask on your nightstand, and make sure your room is nice and cool to encourage quality sleep. Conversely, using light therapy in the evening before you go to work can help you adjust your body’s sleep cycle.
2. Be Consistent With Your Routine
When working a more standard shift, it’s easy to keep up with your routine: waking up in the morning, eating breakfast, going to the gym, walking the dog, etc. But when you work the night shift, keeping a consistent sleeping, eating, and exercise schedule can sometimes feel challenging.
As much as possible, think about the activities you usually do throughout the day and try to imitate that routine—just 12 hours later! Aim to consume three regular meals spaced out throughout your waking hours and find time to exercise at the same time every day.
For example, if you normally wake up, go for a run, then have breakfast before work, try to do the same on your night shift schedule. Let’s say you work from 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. and sleep from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. When you wake up in the evening, plan to get your exercise in before eating and heading to work.
3. Create Work-Life Balance
Just because you work the night shift and sleep when most people are going about their days doesn’t mean you need to miss out on social events or personal time and focus solely on work. If you start your shift at 11:00 p.m., you can easily go out to dinner with friends or spend a few hours with family catching up on your favorite shows. Just as you would when working days, make sure you’re doing whatever makes you happy during your non-work hours.
In addition to taking time for your emotional and mental health, don’t forget your physical health. While your appointment times might need to be later in the day or first thing in the morning after your shift ends, don’t forget to keep up with doctor and dentist appointments.
4. Set Clear Boundaries
It can sometimes be difficult for friends, family, and even coworkers to fully grasp what it means to work the night shift and how your schedule must change based on your hours. When you get home from work and start preparing for bed, set your phone on Do Not Disturb so a phone call or text message doesn’t interrupt your sleep.
You can even set up an automatic reply that lets individuals know that you’re currently sleeping but will be available for communication during certain hours. If possible, you can also provide a method for contacting you in the event of a true emergency.
If you have a family or roommates, make sure they understand the importance of your daytime sleep. Post your work/sleep hours where everyone can see and ask them to keep noise levels down while you’re sleeping. Soundproof your room and invest in a white noise machine to drown out household sounds.
5. Keep a Sustainable Schedule
By far, the easiest way to transition to night shift work is to keep the same schedule every day, even on your days off. Ideally, all your shifts would be night shifts, and you’d sleep during the day for seven days a week. Having a schedule that stays the same day-to-day gives you a chance to develop routines and get into cycles that support your health.
However, this isn’t always possible if your work expects you to rotate your shifts throughout the week. In this case, try to devise a schedule that rotates clockwise, which is a much easier adjustment on your mind and body. For example, your five shifts a week would go in this general order: day shift, evening shift, night shift, morning shift, day shift. Shifts that rotate counterclockwise—from day shift to morning shift to night shift—are much harder on the body.
Benefits of CNA Night Shift Work
Sometimes it can be difficult to see the benefits of staying up all night and sleeping during the day as part of your CNA work, but they do exist. Reframing how you see the night shift can also help you enjoy the work more and feel thankful for your work hours. Some benefits to keep in mind include:
- Better pay: Working outside the standard 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. work hours means you get paid a higher wage than your colleagues in day shifts. Night shift differentials can pay $2 to $3 more per hour than regular daytime shifts!
- Quieter shift: Night shift work can be quite relaxing without all the hustle and bustle of visitors and day activities. Patients are generally asleep, and CNAs often spend at least part of their time preparing for the next day by folding linens, replenishing supplies, and resetting rooms. This allows for a much less hectic work environment.
- Faster commute: You’ll avoid the morning and afternoon rush hours and spend less time sitting in traffic as a night shift CNA.
- Free time during the day: Even though you will be sleeping for some of the day, you can also use your free daytime hours to visit with friends and family, volunteer at your child’s school, or even pursue a nursing or other degree.
- Time to get to know colleagues: Without the hubbub of a standard daytime shift, you’ll have more time to interact and bond with your fellow CNAs and other coworkers. The people you work with at night can become some of your best friends and most valued colleagues.
- Opportunity to build favor with supervisors: By agreeing to work a shift many people shy away from, you signal to your supervisor that you’re a hard, focused worker. It may even be possible to move up in your career more quickly by showing that you’re a determined team player.