19 Tips How To Stay Awake During Night Shift By a Night Nurse

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Have you ever stayed awake at night, thinking about how to stay awake during night shift? See what we did there?

No, but seriously. This is a very serious issue for many people who work the night shift. Most industries who require night shift workers are extremely important to our society. It means that a particular business is SO essential, that they can’t stop operations, even at night.

Some examples of essential businesses who require night-shift workers:

  • Healthcare (nurses, doctors, techs, etc.)
  • Airports (pilots, flight attendants, and supporting staff)
  • Police Officers
  • Firefighters
  • Paramedics/EMTs
  • Security Guards
  • Transportation (taxis, uber drivers, supply chain truck drivers, etc.)
  • Hospitality (hotels, etc.)

As you can see, there are a lot of people working night shifts in our society. And there are so many more industries that require night shifts out there as well.

Therefore, in this article, we offer solutions to your question of how to stay awake during night shift?

We also want to personally express just how grateful we are for the sacrifice you make to do the jobs that still need to get done at night. You aren’t told this enough.

*Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase. Read more on our privacy policy page.

19 Tips On How To Stay Awake During Night Shift:

how to stay awake during night shift

1. Get Enough Sleep During The Day When You Work Night Shifts

The number one tip you will hear from most night shifters, regarding how to stay awake during night shift, is to get your sleep! It seriously needs to be your priority.

We know that it can get lonely sleeping during the day, and to then instead be awake late at night. Read this article that we wrote here to get ideas on things you can do on your night shift days off. Because maintaining a consistent schedule is important.

If you have trouble getting good sleep during the day here are some tips we gathered from real night shifters:

  • Melatonin (take when you end your shift as long as you don’t have a long drive home).
  • Cut off liquids during the last few hours of your shift to avoid being woken up with a full bladder frequently.
  • Cut off caffeine to no later than 4 hours before you end your shift to avoid difficulty falling asleep
  • Blackout window film instead of blackout curtains
  • Sleep headphones/eye mask to block out any remaining light that can disrupt sleep
  • Sound machine (we like using an air purifier)

Ashwagandha is an adaptogen that offers protective benefits to the body. It has been taken much more seriously in science as of late too. The general agreement is that it certainly helps the body deal with stress.

“Preliminary research has found that ashwagandha may help people fall asleep faster, spend more time asleep, and experience better sleep quality.” Read more about ashwagandha and its benefits for sleep by the sleep foundation here.

2. Keep Busy During Your Night Shift

The last thing you want to do during your night shift is to get cozy and start sitting around too long. Having downtime during the night shift is one of the reasons why the night shift can be so hard for so many people.

So keep your mind busy. It is a great opportunity to clean that shelf that has been collecting dust for years. Or to discuss important issues with your coworkers on the things that need to be done for smooth operations, but haven’t. Every industry is different, but there is always something to work on no matter what industry you’re in.

It is in your best interest to keep your mind busy to help you stay awake during the night shift.

how to stay awake during night shift

3. Drink Coffee

This was a really cool tip we learned regarding how to drink your coffee. It has been suggested to drink coffee, with MCT oil, on an empty stomach. The testimony was described as having a sharp and clear mind, with sustained stamina and energy for about 5 hours.

As most people know, it is the caffeine in coffee that gives people energy. Your average 8 to 12-ounce cup will supply you with around 180 to 200 mg of caffeine on average.

And this is important, it has also been suggested to be strategic with your coffee intake on the night shift. You should drink it around the times you would as if you worked the day shift, but in the PM. For example, your first cup would be around 8 pm, and then your second cup would be around 1-2 am.

4. Drink Energy Drinks (But Be Strategic)

For those who don’t like coffee, or it just doesn’t do “the job”, enter, energy drinks.

Energy drinks can be a more reliable source of energy on the night shift because the caffeine concentration is controlled. If you have a coffee machine at work, it is hard to know the quality and quantity of the caffeine.

There are also other supplements added to energy drinks to aid with your stamina and focus. For example, taurine, B vitamins, ginseng, and glucuronolactone.

Some of the most popular energy drinks among night shifters are:

  • 5hr Energy
  • Monster
  • Bang
  • Alani Nu
  • Red Bull
  • Redline
  • Uptime
  • Mountain Dew (surprisingly a very popular suggestion)

The Old Faithfuls:

What I like about Redbull is that it is a pretty safe one for people who are more sensitive to caffeine. A 12 fluid ounce can has only 114 mg of caffeine. A cup of coffee at home has an average amount of about 200 mg of caffeine. Redbull is high in B vitamins which can speed up your metabolism. Redbull gives a more steady pace of energy, and as long as you don’t drink too many, you shouldn’t get jittery.

Bang is a great choice if you need a serious and more intense pick-me-up. Just one half of a bang is enough to give me, personally, an extra 3-4 hours of boosted energy. So, test out your personal limits by trying out Bang.

One reason why Bang can be so intense is because there is 300 mg of caffeine in just one standard size of their drink. It also contains some B vitamins and amino acids in there as well. Many will use Bang as a pre-workout because it kicks in super strong, and fast when you need it to. This is a drink we would recommend starting earlier in your shift, rather than later, to avoid sleep issues when you get home.

how to stay awake during night shift

5. Eat Small “Power” Meals To Stay Awake During Your Night Shift

This is another popular and important tip. When it comes to the question of how to stay awake during night shift, an important answer is to avoid large and heavy meals.

Why do large and heavy meals make you sleepy after eating? Mainly it is due to the insulin spike. Read more here.

So, it is best to eat lighter throughout your night shift. Smaller portions. Higher protein and lower in fast-digesting carbohydrates (like in processed foods).

Some good food choices to eat during your night shift:

  • Greek yogurt with berries and granola
  • Fruit with nuts (fruit is okay in its whole form)
  • Peanutbutter and crackers
  • A properly portioned, meal-prepped dinner with protein, a complex carb, and veggies

6. Take Pre-Workout

Many night shifters will recommend pre-workout if you like a little more control over the amount of stimulant you are getting. Instead of wasting half, or a quarter of an energy drink, you can just adjust your scoop sizes.

Pre-workout powders offer the same, or similar, benefits as energy drinks. They increase your energy and help you focus on the task at hand.

Here were the most popularly recommended pre-workouts by real night shifters:

  • GFuel (Popularly used by gamers to stay focused without a sugar crash, and it’s affordable)
  • Amino energy (affordable, and easy to adjust how much caffeine you need)
  • Bucked Up (Known for having a better taste than most pre-workouts, and gives an extra great “pump”)
  • C4 Pre Workout (A popular classic, affordable, and does the job)

7. Eat Healthy Foods

We touched on this in our eating smaller meals tip, but it is worth emphasizing. To avoid sleepiness, digestion issues, and crashing on your night shift, put healthy fuel into your body.

Digestion issues are one of the most common complaints that night shifters make. This is largely due to sleep issues, but it is adding insult to injury to fill up on fast food and vending machine snacks on your night shift. Tip #5 has some great healthy food suggestions that are easy to eat during the night shift.

So to help you stay awake during your night shifts, be strategic with your meals and bring your food to work.

8. Keep Your Routine Consistent When Working Night Shifts

Many people who start the night shift try to get away with living more “normally” on their days off. This is not recommended by veteran night shifters or health professionals. When it comes to answering the question of how to stay awake during night shift, consistency is key. Just this year in 2023 a study came out titled, “Sleep regularity is a stronger predictor of mortality risk than sleep duration: A prospective cohort study.” Read the study here.

One of the best things you can do to make staying awake easier on the night shift is to have a consistent “night owl” routine. Working the night shift is a lifestyle. Some people have no choice but to work night shifts, and some choose to do it for other reasons such as higher pay, or they just like the vibe better.

Whatever the case may be, embrace the lifestyle and establish a consistent night shift routine on a daily basis.

how to stay awake during night shift

9. Talk To Your Doctor

This is definitely more of a last resort tip, but if you have tried everything… Everything including getting enough sleep, having a consistent night owl lifestyle, coffee, energy drinks and eating healthy, etc. You may just want to talk to your doctor. Especially if your job is considered a high-risk position where errors can be detrimental to the bottom line and affect safety.

Some night shifters have revealed that they take a medication that was prescribed by their doctor to stay awake during the night shift. So if you are having a really hard time, and nothing is working and the situation is becoming desperate, consider talking to your doctor about prescription options.

10. Stay Hydrated During Night Shifts

This is such an underrated tip when it comes to the question of how to stay awake during night shift. And it is such an easy solution!

The answer is to drink more water! Read here to learn about the many benefits of staying hydrated and how it helps your energy levels, stamina, and physical performance.

Remember, although coffee can really help you out on the night shift, it is also very dehydrating. You definitely start the feel the effects in the last hours of your shift. Having personal experience myself, those last few hours of the shift can be brutal with the dry bloodshot eyes, foggy mind, and unquenchable thirst.

Make sure you have a really good water bottle, one that preferably stays cold. Cold temperatures can also help with staying awake due to the invigorating stimulus.

The Hydro Flask water bottle is unbeatable when it comes to keeping your water cold for hours and hours. Here is a 32-ounce size, and you should try to make it a goal to drink two of these during your night shift.

11. Monitor Your Vitamin B-12 Levels

As we touched briefly on before, B vitamins give you energy by converting your food into energy. While I wouldn’t suggest relying on vitamin B-12 alone to stay awake during the night shift if you are really struggling, it is a vitamin you should keep in the back of your mind. Many energy drinks supply a healthy amount as well because it really does help with energy.

If you are a vegan or a vegetarian, you will want to be especially mindful of your vitamin B-12 levels. Especially if you feel like you are doing everything right as far as living the healthy lifestyle for a night shifter. So for example, you are getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and drinking energy drinks. etc. but you still feel really sleepy during the night shift. Get your vitamin B-12 levels checked.

Just to note, people who are “omnivores” are not excluded from being at risk of having a B-12 deficiency, so it is always a good idea to get regular blood work and check these things.

how to stay awake during night shift

12. Do Jumping Jacks and Stretching Throughout The Night Shift

An easy, free, and effective way to stay awake during the night shift is to get your heart rate up! If you find yourself about to start dozing off, get out of your chair and get the blood flowing.

There is a reason why it is not suggested to exercise right before going to bed. When your heart rate and temperature are up, the body is no longer in a relaxed state, which is of course ideal for falling asleep.

So, find a space on the grounds where you work, and get some knee jumps in. You can also try jumping jacks and stretching your legs. This can be especially helpful when you reach that slump just a few hours before your shift ends. Again, a quick, easy and healthy fix.

13. Stay Standing Up, Especially When Doing Paperwork and Charting

I’ll use the nursing career as an example here. From around midnight to 3 am, at least for most nights, this is a pretty quiet time on the floor. If you struggle with staying awake on the night shift, make sure you are standing to chart instead of sitting down.

And definitely, please, don’t grab a warmed blanket at this time of night lol. For the love of all that is science. That is just asking for a sleepy night shift.

So stand up, grab the COW (computer on wheels) and complete your charting on your feet.

how to stay awake during night shift

14. Wake Up 2 Hours Before Your Night Shift Starts

When you think about it, day shifters don’t generally wake up 5 hours before their shift starts. If their shift started at 8 am and they had been awake since 3 am, they would probably have a pretty rough shift ahead of them as well.

If you have kids, this may be a little tougher. So, if you have to break up your sleep during the day for reasons such as being a caretaker of little ones, that is totally okay. Just try to at least get in some sleep a few hours before your shift for a good recharge to get you through the night.

15. Natural Energy Supplements For Night Shift

If coffee and energy drinks are not your things, there are more natural supplements out there that you can try. An added bonus is that a lot of these supplements add additional health benefits as well.

Green tea extract is a popular alternative for many people. Not only does it help with energy, but it is also high in antioxidants. There is also science that shows that green tea extract is good for the brain by protecting brain cells from oxidative stress. Read more about the benefits of green tea extract here.

Additionally, check out this Neuro Peak brain support supplement. It gives you a large dose of vitamin B-12 but also Ginkgo Biloba. Gingko Biloba reduces the risk of cognitive decline and has been shown to increase mental performance. Read more about it here.

how to stay awake during night shift

16. Get Some Fresh Air And Go Outside On Your Night Shift

If you find yourself, really, really struggling, some fresh air can really help give you a quick boost. This is also a trick for people who have to drive late at night. If you are driving and find yourself feeling sleepy, it is suggested to roll down the window and to let in the cool, fresh air.

So if possible, on your break try to get outside into the cool and fresh air. This can give you a natural boost of energy, and it is also good for your mental health to get out of your workplace for a moment. Even better, it would be really great to do your jumping jacks, and stretches, outside during your break on night shift.

how to stay awake during night shift

17. Choose Being Cold Over “Warm and Cozy”

This is worth emphasizing on its own. Don’t get tempted and wrap yourself in a blanket from the blanket warmer if you work as a nurse on the night shift. Or, if you’re a truck driver at night, don’t keep your car too warm, and “comfortable”.

Try to stay more on the colder side to help you stay awake during your night shift. I know it can feel uncomfortable, but if you are struggling with sleepiness during night shifts, this can help a lot.

18. Use Eye Drops and Splash Some Water On Your Face When Working Night Shifts

I can only speak from experience here, but working a 12-hour night shift in healthcare is not for the weak. For me personally, when 4 am – 5 am hits, that is when I feel at my absolute worst.

However, I have found that going to the bathroom and putting some eye drops in, and splashing some cold water on my face does a lot to get me through the rest of my shift. Especially since by that point, I have cut off my “continuous infusion” of caffeine so that I can go home and get straight to sleep.

These are my favorite eye drops to help with the redness and blurriness that hits at the end of the night:

I like that these eye drops are doctor recommended and that they give an immediate soothing sensation. Other eye drops I have found tend to sting a little bit and they take longer to take effect.

how to stay awake during night shift

19. Mind Over Matter

I know some people won’t like this tip, but others will, so it’s worth talking about. This is especially for those who are into self-improvement and the power of the mind. When it comes to answering the question of how to stay awake during night shift, we can’t ignore the topic of willpower.

The mind is so much stronger and so much more powerful than we give it credit for. Your mind controls your body more than you realize. If you switch your focus from “I’m so tired” to “Let’s get to work”, you can see immediate results from just that simple attitude change. Granted, this is assuming you got proper sleep before your shift.

Think about it. Your mind is so powerful that you can literally convince yourself you are in danger and then give yourself a panic attack with scary physical symptoms. However, you are really just sitting safely in your home. The mind has a power we have to learn to harness and train.

I could talk about training and taking control of your thoughts all day, but that is for another article, for another day.

In Conclusion: How To Stay Awake During Night Shift?

While we have listed many helpful tips in this article, from REAL night shift workers, we must emphasize the foundations. You must prioritize healthy and consistent sleep, be strategic and responsible with your energy supplements, and live a healthy lifestyle.

Working the night shift can truly be an enjoyable experience, if you are committed to the lifestyle. Having worked in healthcare for almost six years myself, it is always encouraging to see that many of the night shift workers have actually worked nights for decades. They can’t see themselves going back to days.

Night shift work is a special culture. It is also a unique opportunity to make friends easier, if that has been a struggle for you in your life. Many people start out working night shifts because of the higher pay, but it quickly becomes a preferential lifestyle for many for various reasons.

So, we hope that some of these tips and products can help you stay awake during your night shift. Please share in the comments below if you have any additional tips and tricks to share.

Jackie Jimenez BSN, RN
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