How to Work Your First Ever Night Shift and What to Expect

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I still remember how I felt just before my first ever night shift. I was anxious, excited and even slightly terrified for what was about to come. I remember thinking, can I really stay up all night and sleep during the day, whilst still functioning as a human being?

Female medical professional wearing face face and gloves | How to Work Your First Ever Night Shift and What to Expect

Drink copious amounts of water, graze instead of enjoying large, carbohydrate-heavy meals, prioritize sleep, be conscious of the light and avoid caffeine 5-6 hours before sleep. These are the keys to transitioning into your first night shift.

This post will explore why it’s okay to be a little frightened of your first night shift, what to expect, how to prepare and tips for staying awake while working overnight. We finish up with fun but important do’s and dont’s when starting your first night to ensure you stay healthy when functioning against your body clock.

If you’d like the video summary, watch my video below!

What Is Night Shift and Why It’s Okay to Be Scared

Let’s start with the basics.

The night shift, graveyard shift, 3rd shift, overnight shift, Lobster shift and even the anchor watch shift all mean the same thing.

The only difference in the naming usually has a lot to do with the industry you are in.

But generally, it’s a shift which runs when the moon is high in the sky and the rest of the world is asleep.

Unfortunately for the newbies, there is no hard and fast rule for when the night shift stops and starts.

Some start earlier in the evening, with longer shifts and some start later with shorter shifts.

For example: as a nurse, I have worked the night shift from:

  • 7pm – 7am
  • 9pm – 7.30am
  • 11 – 7.30am
  • 5pm – 3am
  • + a ton of variations in-between

So you might work from 11pm – 11am or 5pm – 4am.

We detail plenty more about the timing of night shift and what professions work the night shift in a post we wrote titled, What Do the Terms 1st, 2nd and 3rd Shift Actually Mean?​ if you are interested to know more.

Why It’s Okay to Be Scared of Your First Night Shift

Can you remember back to a time (probably your parties day) when you stayed up all night without a beverage?

I was the “designated driver” on a number of occasions, though it didn’t happen regularly.

And that’s because my body and mind hated it! It’s NOT normal. Plain and simple.

We are programmed to sleep during the night and be awake during the day, making this the traditional lifestyle choice for pretty much everyone. Except us night workers.

And this makes night shift pretty scary but also exciting and exhilarating all at the same time.

But I think it’s hard to put your finger on what you’re actually nervous about – so let me help.

  • How do I prepare for the night shift ahead? What do I eat? When should I sleep? Will exercising help or will it make me more tired?
  • I have no idea what to expect. Is it quiet? Will I get bored?
  • Can I really stay up all night without falling to sleep on the job?
  • I have never slept during the day. What happens if I can’t do it? What will happen to my health?
  • How long will it take to adjust to night shift? Read this post for the quick answer.
  • Can night shift make me sick? This is a complicated topic. Check out this post for a detailed, helpful guide.

Night shift is “an experience” but a very doable one. Throughout the rest of this post, we will dive into answering these questions/queries to adequately prepare you for your first ever night shift.

Just before we jump in, I want to recommend a shift work book which you’ll thank me later for recommending.

It’s called “Too Tired to Cook” and it’s honestly a brilliant, honest, helpful book I wish every shift worker had the pleasure of reading. It’s available on Amazon here.Opens in a new tab.

Click to check it out on Amazon.comOpens in a new tab.

Preparing for Night Shift the Day Before

There are a few things you can do in the day (s) leading up night shift to make the transition easier.

Yes, it can seem a little unfair that day shift workers don’t need to take these steps, but don’t get caught up on that. You’ll soon find your routine and become really efficient at this preparation stage.

One of our most popular posts titled, How To Best Prepare for the Night Shift and Stay Healthy goes into a lot of detail about this preparation stage leading into nights and I encourage you to check it out by clicking on the image below.

But here is a summary of the points in this post you should consider putting into action.

Organize your meals

  • Have “dinner” ingredients ready for before you leave for a shift (or something which is easily transportable, if you start earlier and don’t have time to eat at home). Don’t start your shift with a greasy burger from McDonald’s or your other favorite food chain.
  • Using the slow cooker, this one (via our shift work tools page) is our favorite by far. Crockpots produce plenty of meals you can freeze for a rainy day. Take the time, in the few days before starting nights, to make a big batch of casserole, stew, soups, pulled pork/chicken, etc so you are never left wondering what’s for dinner.
  • Make sure you have healthy breakfast food at home for after the shift like oats and berries. You don’t need an excuse to stop for takeout. Read this post about the foods which can actually help you sleep after a night shift. Who knew foods could do this!?
  • Physically writing down/planning each meal and snack you plan to eat for when you’re on a night shift can be a huge stress reliever. You don’t need to go overboard. Just a rough guide will do the trick.

Related posts:

Mcdonalds sign | Surviving first ever night shift
Don’t rely on McDonald’s and other take-out chains. You’re better than this.

Exercise and / or an epic housework blitz

It’s funny, exercising before and even during a run of nights gives you MORE energy and LESS fatigue than if you skipped a workout. Plus, it helps you sleep when you get home (source).

I used to think this was a joke until I fell in the lazy trap and felt absolutely horrible and couldn’t sleep a wink.

Make a point to exercise for at least 30 minutes per day (to the point you cannot hold a conversation because you’re puffed out) (source).

I use a range of different techniques to make this happen from skipping, going to the gym and walking in the sun (to get my recommended amount of vitamin D).

Related posts about exercise on night shift:


You cannot work your first night shift without sleeping for a few hours before.

Well, actually you can, and I’ve done it, but it’s certainly not setting you up for a successful, productive night.

Try and sleep, or at least stop what you’re doing and rest for 2-3 hours in the afternoon before your shift. If you can sleep for longer that’s even better.

I find doing a workout in the morning or an epic housework blitz, which includes changing the sheets, vacuuming, cleaning the bathroom and shower and even dusting makes me so exhausted I fall to sleep easily in the afternoon.

On the other hand, some people like to transition their body in the days leading up to night shift; gradually going to bed later and later to mimic the night shift schedule.

I don’t personally do this as I work a rotating shift schedule (find out more about rotating shift work here) but give it a go if you have the flexibility.

Don’t treat the day before night shift as a day off. It’s okay to be busy and complete your jobs in the morning but take it easy in the afternoon and rest.

If you’re nervous about sleeping before a shift, you’ll love this post titled 10 Must-Have Night Shift Sleep Aids for a Heavenly Sleep. It’s loaded with products you’ll want to get your hands on to make this a fun experience.

We also talk about all things sleep aids in the shift work tools section located in the top toolbar on this website. You can check it out by clicking on the image below.

Related posts about sleep before night shift:

Informing your family (+pets!)

You don’t need your family and friends to call you at 2pm wondering if you want to go to the game or if they can “drop over.”

Tell everyone in your inner circle about your upcoming night shift

If you are expecting a delivery, don’t forget to tell the mailman. Leaving them a note or a sign by the door or on top of the doorbell will limit disturbance.

This Do Not Disturb Day Sleeper Plastic Door Knob Hanger SignOpens in a new tab. (on Amazon) is perfect to silently communicate with your family.

But this Night Shift Worker Do Not Disturb Hanging PlaqueOpens in a new tab. (on Amazon) is perfect for your neighbors and mailman if you don’t one.

If you forget to tell your family and friends…

Activate the “do not disturb” function on your phone. Here’s where to find it.

Related posts:

7 Things You Can Expect on Your First Night Shift

1. You will become really cold at 3-4am as your body begins to conserve energy, so don’t forget to bring a sweater or jacket. If you don’t have one suitable, Is there an item of work uniform you could buy which is also tax-deductible?

2. Nausea and bloating are common when eating between the hours of 1-6am. Avoid large meals and instead enjoy eating multiple, high protein snacks to minimize the risk of feeling uncomfortable. I also enjoy a cup of peppermint tea to help digestion. Related post: What Causes Night Shift Nausea and How to Finally Beat It

3. You’ll feel dehydrated. Lots of water, hand cream and lip balm and they’ll be your best friends.

4. Night shift can be quiet and dark – but it’s not always the case depending on your industry. So be prepared for anything – have a can-do mindset.

5. You’ll get so tired, especially on your commute home, so don’t feel embarrassed to pull over or call a taxi to take you home safely. Short naps around 10-20 minutes are ideal but more on that later. Read: How to Stop Falling Asleep While Driving after Night Shift

6. Most of your work colleagues will be struggling too, so stick together and help each other out.

7. Ladies: Your period can become irregular. Take a look at – Does Shift Work Affect Your Period? Tips For Staying Regular for more information on this.

NYPD car with police officers inside
NYPD working night shift

Tips for Staying Awake on Night Shift

Can I really stay up all night without falling to sleep on the job?

Most certainly!

Here are a few ninja tips to consider

Time your mealsEat your largest meal of the day at the start of your shift to avoid feeling sluggish and fatigued. Plus, it helps your resting digestive system.
Drink caffeineCaffeine is brilliant to kick start your night (source). Just switch to non-caffeinated drinks 5-6 hours before bed.
NapA quick 10-20 minute power nap will give you an energy boost lasting around 3 hours (1, 2) . Don’t be embarrassed to have one but remember to set an alarm. Read Should You Nap During Night Shift?
MoveDon’t sit still if you’re bored. Clean, complete mindless jobs, follow up outstanding work, walk, complete an office workout with friends, etc.
Keep the lights onYour brain needs light stimulus to stay awake. (source)

This post titled 8 Useful Hacks for Surviving Night Shift With No Sleep will be very helpful, particularly on night one.

How to Stay Healthy While Working Night Shift: Do’s and Dont’s


  • Set up your bedroom before you start your first night shift (blackout blinds, eye mask, amber book light (see our favorites here), fan, fresh sheets, a nice pillow, bedding you love, aromatherapy diffusers). Check out our recommended shift work tools page here for our top sleep aids.
  • High protein grazing is best rather than big meals.
  • Drink more ice-cold water than you normally would. The Iron Flask Sports Water BottleOpens in a new tab. is perfect for night shift workers as it keeps your drinks super cold all night.
  • Purchase a pair of blue light blocking glasses and wear them at least 60 to 90 minutes before you sleep. We cannot sleep after a night shift without our Swannies from Swanwick Sleep. Check them out here and find out why we love here.

  • Prioritize sleep. Don’t start doing your jobs after you get home. Dropping kids at school is an exception but everything else can probably wait.
  • Have healthy snacks ALWAYS readily available. Getting fat and becoming overweight on night shift doesn’t have to be your reality as you may have heard from others. Take a read of this post Does Shift Work Make You Fat? 14 Tips To Avoid Weight Gain for some helpful insights which saved me a belt buckle or two.
  • Roster yourself on a few night shifts in a row. Avoid swapping from days to nights with little rest in between.


  • Skip the nap/sleep before your first night
  • Rely on the vending machine for your meals and snacks throughout the night
  • Drink coffee right up until you need to sleep
  • Become frustrated with the world outside your window when you get home because it’s too loud. Instead do something positive about it. Use a white noise machine like the LectroFan White Noise Sound MachineOpens in a new tab. available on Amazon, listen to meditative music or move your bedroom to a place in the house which is quieter such as the basement.
  • Drink alcohol before bed. It messes up and even shortens REM sleep. The stage of sleep responsible for information processing and how good you feel upon waking.
  • Don’t commit to “day time people things” such as lunch dates and accepting deliveries in the middle of the day.
  • Ladies you don’t need a ton of makeup. Give your skin a break. I personally use a bit of mascara, powder and a touch of blush – that’s it.

First Nursing Night Shift?


Summary: How to Work Your First Ever Night Shift and What to Expect

Working your first night shift is “an experience” not many people get to try.

While it may be non-traditional, there is certainly a lot to love about working the night shift from no traffic to fewer people and drama I’m sure you’ll soon appreciate.

If others can do it, you can too! Good luck.


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Disclosure: This page may contain affiliate links, meaning we receive a commission if you decide to make a purchase through our links, but this is at no additional cost to you. Please read our disclosure and privacy statement for more info.

Emma @ The Other Shift

Hey there! I'm Emma Smith a passionate, Registered Nurse from Australia. Together with my husband Daniel, we run The Other Shift. Our sole aim is to help shift workers and those on unusual schedules find balance between work and life. I understand the challenges of fitting in exercise, maintaining relationships and getting enough quality sleep, but I'm excited to show you that it’s possible to do shift work and still thrive. Read more about us and our story here.

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