Night Shift Ninja Junior Doctor

Published January 12, 2023 | Updated July 27, 2023

Victoria Kinkaid

By Victoria Kinkaid

Junior doctor with a passion for women’s health and sexual and reproductive health.

Feel a sense of dread every time you see “nights” on your rota? Freshly graduated and haven’t worked a night shift before? Or just simply “not a night owl”?

Well, this article is for you. We have 10 top tips for working “the nightshift” which will turn you into a night shift ninja! (or just make you dread them slightly less than you did before).

Personally, I can’t say I love on-call night shifts. However, by doing them more often I have come up with some things that I find to make them more tolerable.

These tips may or may not work for you, but I urge you to come up with a nightshift routine which can help you survive your nightshifts.

Did You Know?

Apparently, we can trace nightshift work back to ancient times when people worked overnight as watchkeepers or in the military.

Modern-day nightshift work was apparently born in the 1800s following the invention of the lightbulb, which enabled productivity overnight.

Source: Managing 24/7: A Brief History of Shiftwork

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10 Tips to Transform You Into a Nightshift Ninja

1. Let Yourself Relax The Day Before.

I know this is easier said than done when you are dreading the shift ahead, but try it. Trust me, do something that relaxes you; whether that is going for a long run, lying on the sofa binging a Netflix series, or going out for coffee with friends, just give yourself a relaxing day.

If anything, you are doing something you enjoy and you will forget all about the shift ahead!

2. Stay Up Late the Night Before.

Remember when you were a kid and you begged your parents to let you stay up late and watch movies and eat popcorn?

Well now is the time to channel that inner kid and do it! Stay up later to start switching your body clock into night shift mode.

3. Silence All Alarms The Morning of the Night Shift.

So picture the scene: you have stayed up late, binge-watching Emily in Paris season 3 (Insert your own muse here) and you go to bed later; for goodness sake, silence your alarm and let yourself lie in!

This is all part of the cunning plan to trick your body clock. This leads me to tip number 4.

4. Invest in Some Good-quality Blackout Curtains.

Black-out curtains are a godsend. Whoever invented blackout curtains must have worked night shift because they are a game changer.

There is nothing worse than trying to sleep during the day, or having your lie in, and being woken by the bright sunlight piercing through some thin curtains.

It is the worst. Trust me, I have been there.

Additionally, if you are a light sleeper, think about investing in some earplugs and an eye mask for extra protection from the day!

5. Eat Well!

Make sure you have a good dinner with lots of complex carbohydrates before you head into your night shift. This will give you the energy to keep going when it hits the dreaded 2 am slump.

I also usually have a big lunch to ensure I am well-fed before my shift, just in case I don’t feel like eating during the shift.

6. Bring Snacks.

This is essential.

Firstly (despite amazing campaigners) the NHS is pretty bad for the provision of food at night, and it may be difficult or even impossible to get some food in the hospital. Again I have been there.

Make sure you are well-stocked on nutritious snacks for the shift ahead. I recommend cereal bars, plain biscuits and bananas, but again pick your poison!

Did You Know?

In 2021 Neely Mozawala founded “No Hungry Staff”, a campaign “to make the 24/7 provision of hot, affordable and nutritious food a reality for NHS staff.”

They found that 84% of NHS staff do not have access to hot food during a night shift and they wanted this to change.

Although changes are happening and some hospitals have pledged to provide 24/7 hot food for staff, a lot of hospitals still do not have 24/7 provision. You can check out the campaign below.

Source: No Hungry Staff

7. Don’t Skip Breakfast.

Ok so your shift is over, you survived!! But there is one final hurdle; make sure you eat some brekkie!

Dubbed the most important meal of the day for a reason, having some breakfast before you fall into bed for a snooze will allow you to sleep better and for longer.

Trust me, you don’t want to be woken after a 3-hour sleep by a rumbling stomach!

8. Stay Hydrated.

This is sound advice for all shifts, but particularly at night when it is less instinctive to drink.

Make sure you keep your water bottle with you throughout the shift and keep sipping away at it!

Did you know?

Being dehydrated can lead to fatigue, which is not what you need whilst being on night shift!

Staying hydrated is crucial to surviving “the night shift” so therefore make sure you keep sipping on your water!

9. To caffeinate or to not caffeinate?

Or put more simply, should you have a coffee or not?

If you want to drink coffee during the night, make sure you do it at the start of your shift, but remember to switch to decaffeinated coffee or tea towards the end of the shift (as hard as that might be). This will allow you to sleep better when you get home.

Fun Fact

The mean half-life of caffeine is 5 hours, with a range of 1.5 hours to 9.5 hours.

I would advise you to know your own susceptibility to caffeine well and go off that for planning your last caffeinated drink!

If you are unsure, go off a half-life of 5 hours, and stop all caffeinated drinks 5 hours before your shift ends, so you can get a good sleep when you get home!

Source: Caffeine for the Sustainment of Mental Task Performance: Formulations for Military Operations.

10. Readjust Your Body Clock at the End!

At the end of your stint of nights, the temptation will be so strong to come home and collapse into bed.

There are several schools of thought on this one, but my advice is: don’t do it.

Make sure you come home and relax, maybe treat yourself again like at the start of the stint; go for a nice walk, take yourself out for breakfast or go to the spa. Try and stay awake until that evening, then have an early night – you will sleep so much better!

If you do sleep, have a nap after your shift and make sure you set an alarm! Try to get yourself up around midday and do some small tasks like laundry or sending an email for a sense of achievement.

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Finding a Night Shift Routine That Works for You

As I said at the start, play around with these tips – see which ones work for you and which ones don’t.

You may respond really well to the post-night shift stint nap or you may need to stay up all day to re-adjust your body clock. You may eat a full meal during your shift or you may only be able to snack. Nightshift habits are personal, but I urge you to try to have fun with them.

Maybe at the end of a stint of nights, you will treat yourself to a nice breakfast or an item of clothing that you want. This kind of activity will make you want to be on nights more often!

Looking After Your Mind Whilst on Night Shift

Nightshift can be a stressful time, and perhaps a lonely experience; working away from your normal team, working with new colleagues who you don’t know and being out of routine.

This can create the perfect storm for low mood and burnout. Being aware of this, and taking little actions to combat this can help.

For example:

  • If you normally do exercise or meditation, try to schedule this in before your shift. 
  • Try and speak to your support networks and offload when required.
  • Reach out to colleagues at work, and checking in on each other at the end of the night

If You Need Help

As always, if you need help or support for your mental health, reach out to a trusted friend, or family member or contact a helpline like Samaritans.

There are also plenty of free mental health resources available to doctors. If you’re even thinking about whether you might need help – reach out.

It might save your life.


My 10 top nightshift tips are:

  • Let yourself relax the day before your night shift, and treat yourself
  • Stay up late the night before, with or without the Netflix binge
  • Silence all alarms the morning of your night shift so you have a lie in
  • Invest in some good quality black-out curtains
  • Eat well before your shift, with complex carbohydrates
  • Bring snacks to your shift
  • Don’t skip breakfast when you get home from your shift
  • Keep well hydrated throughout the shift to reduce tiredness
  • Limit caffeine, and time caffeinated drinks wisely
  • Remember to readjust your body clock at the end of the stint of nights by staying up until the evening or having a short nap

As I said, these are some of the tips that I utilise to survive the night shift, and they may or may not work for you. My advice is to try them out and experiment with what works for you!

I hope you enjoy devising your own night shift plan, and that these tips are beneficial.

Good luck!

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