How Do Nurses Not Get Sick? 10 Tips To Staying Healthy

Nurses are so incredibly good at looking after everyone else’s health. But all too often we let our own health and wellness fall by the wayside for the benefit of others. Before we know it, we are priming a line, giving dangerous medications, on 4 hours sleep and with a runny nose, headache whilst feeling awful. Way to increase the level of difficulty!

Throughout this post, I go into detail about how to look after yourself as a hard-working, busy nurse and highlight the health tips and tricks I wish I had known sooner.  

This is part 2 of an exciting 3 part new nursing series. I wish I had access to this when I first started my nursing career. Part one is called Being a New Nurse is Hard. How to Stop Feeling Incompetent and part three is titled Advice for New Grad Nurses: How to Stop Feeling Like an Idiot (click the titles to check them out). I hope you love it.

1. Take Your Breaks, Despite a Busy Shift

Have you got yourself caught up in the habit of a regular skipped break?

Stop doing that.

As an ER nurse myself, I know shifts can be full on. But you cannot think clearly for long periods without food, hydration – let alone with a full bladder!

Skipping your breaks is dangerous and doesn’t do anybody, including your patient and colleagues any favors.

Now I know your headspace – you think you don’t have time and taking a break will ruin your shift. It won’t. Taking a time-out for even 10 minutes allows you to at least go to the bathroom and quickly eat some high protein snacks, giving you the kick to keep going.

Skipping your break doesn’t make you a ‘better, stronger nurse’…and it can actually cause more accidents. Taking a few minutes to go outside and breathe in some fresh air as we explain in Surviving 3, 12-Hour Shifts in a Row has saved my butt and my brain from going insane on really busy days.

In terms of hydration and making sure you drink enough water, we use the amazing BEAST tumbler to keep my water cold and caffeine hot. We recently did a video review here so check it out and see if it’s right for you.

To give you that extra boost, stir in some SuperGreen TONIK green juiceOpens in a new tab.. It’s full of 15 superfoods to give your body and mind that extra kick to make you feel so good even when working night shift!

2. Take Care of Your Feet and Legs

It’s very distracting trying to look after your group of patients when your legs painfully ache every time you take a step.

Looking after your feet and legs is a must and it starts with good footwear and compression socks.

Here are a few good choices for nursing footwear I’ve found on Amazon for pretty reasonable prices.

Dansko Women’s Pro XP Mule
Women’sOpens in a new tab. Nursing ShoesOpens in a new tab.
(cheaper alternative)

In regards to footwear, my specific workplace allows staff to wear runners / sneakers / tennis shoes and so I opt for a pair of Asics runners called Kayanos. While these are often the most expensive Asics shoe, they stop leg pain and are long-lasting. Here are my shoesOpens in a new tab..

KEEN Utility Men’s Slip On Work Shoe
Rockport Men’s Pro Walker Walking Shoe

Top choice for compression socks:

In our recommended shift work tools sectionOpens in a new tab., we outline our favorite compressions socks and why. We also talk about them here – Should I Wear Compression Socks At Work?Opens in a new tab. I encourage you to check it out if you’re experiencing pain and swelling to your legs and feet.

We also wrote an article about taking care of your painful legs and feet after a shift, an enjoyable read you’ll find here – How to Relieve Foot and Leg Pain from Standing All Day.

Socks | Can't Sleep After Night Shift? 12 Weird Tips That Actually Work

3. Be Smart with Inevitable Germs

I’m sure you’ve worked out that nursing is all about being around germs and sick people. Though the chance of you getting sick is high purely due to the environment, it doesn’t guarantee you will.

Here are a few tips to avoid getting sick and sucking up all your personal / sick leave:

Wash Your Hands, All the Time (or use alcohol based hand rub ABHR)

I know I sound like a broken record but washing your hands is HUGE to not only your own health but for those whom you’re looking after.

It takes 20 seconds to fully disinfect your hands after they have been visibly soiled. So instead of counting to 20 (boring!), sing happy birthday! More fun and equally effective.

After washing your hands, be careful what you touch, including your face, eyes and mouth.

Scrub up on when and how you should wash your hands by reading the link here from the World Health Organisation website.

Get Into the Habit of Using Moisturizer

Apply your favorite moisturizer at least 3-5 times per day to prevent skin breakdown. Alcohol-based hand rub can be harsh on nurses’ hands. Think; before and after showering, after the bathroom and then during your shift.

O’Keeffe’s Working Hands Hand Cream is a hugely popular choice of hand cream which is very affordable. Check it out here via Amazon.

O'Keeffe's Working Hands Hand Cream

(If your hands are sensitive to the hospital grade wash, go and see human resources or seek guidance from your educator / charge nurse about what to do instead because there will be an alternative.)

Skip the Handshake

If you know somebody is sick or a family member is coughing and spluttering, skip close contact or wash your hands immediately after.

Use Tough Wipes Between Patients on Equipment

Wipe highly used areas down with hospital grade wipes available in your area. Just stay away from electrical plugs – this could give you an unwanted recharge.

Early PPE

If the patient is coughing, has a fever with lethargy, has diarrhoea, presents with a rash post recent travel or something just doesn’t feel right, pop them in isolation. It can always be removed if it’s not necessary.

If you don’t know how to apply your PPE correctly, this video will helpOpens in a new tab.. If not, seek guidance from your charge nurse and make sure you are protecting yourself properly.

4. Cry. Nursing is Hard

This tip is for your mental health.

We work a very emotional and physically exhausting job and sometimes it feels good to let it all out. If you’re “not a crier” it might be helpful just to talk to somebody and get clarity on what’s bothering you.

Crying and being emotional is okay but try and work out why you’re upset and break these up into bite-size pieces.

Are you confused with the medications? Spend some time with the education team and see what resources are available to you.

Are you confused about the IV pump? Come into work a bit early and have a play. (we got into more detail in part 1 on this nursing series HERE).

Are you struggling with time management? Find a mentor or educator and pick their brain about some strategies they use to ensure they leave work on time whilst also getting their work done.

Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know and be open to new ideas.

Just Remember…One Bad Shift Doesn’t Make You a Bad Nurse.

5. Establish a Sleep Routine

Let your brain make the connection between certain behaviors and sleep. Such behaviors could be showering, drinking chamomile tea, doing relaxing yoga stretches and the smell of lavender.

Make it easier for your brain to move into sleep mode despite your shift start and finishing times. You can do this by making the 2 hours before bed appear consistently the same. Confused? Here is what mine looks like.

  • Wear blue light blocking glasses
  • Drink caffeine-free tea
  • Read a book
  • Use lavender
  • Wash my face / have a shower
  • Avoid stressful conversations

Let me explain a little further.

Wear Blue Light Blocking Glasses

The artificial blue light coming from your phone, TV, laptop and lights in your home are stopping your sleep hormone melatonin from putting you to sleep.

Wearing “blue blockers” stops or severely limits the amount of this blue light affecting your hormones allowing you to fall asleep and stay asleep. Learn more about blue light here.Opens in a new tab.

Whilst there are a lot of brands out there, we wear Swanwick Sleep. Comfortable, affordable, excellent quality and they work. You can check out our full review here – How Swanwick’s Blue Light Blocking Glasses Put Me To Sleep.

Dan and I wear these every night (and morning if working night shift) and try to have them on at least 90 minutes before we intend on sleeping.

This is what they look like… slick hey? (click on the picture to explore the Swanwick Sleep website.

Dan wearing Aviator blue light blocking glasses from Swanwick Sleep – see website here.
Remember to keep your blue light blocking glasses on even when brushing your teeth! See what other Sleep aids are available from Swanwick Sleep – here

Drink Caffeine-Free Tea

Drinking peppermint tea is my go-to after meals to assist with digestion, though chamomile tea is also a common choice to help me wind down for bed. I’ve recently found this “Sleepytime” tea before bed and it’s deliciously relaxing. You’ve got to try it. Here is the link to AmazonOpens in a new tab. if you shop there.

Whatever you choose, just make sure it’s caffeine-free to limit your need to visit the bathroom all night.

Related Post: Night Shift and Caffeine. How To Use It Wisely

Read a Real Book (or Kindle):

Picking up a book whilst wearing my “SwanniesOpens in a new tab.” and drinking my Sleepytime tea is the escape from the world I need.

Lately, I’ve been having a laugh before bed whilst reading Oh Sh*t, I Almost Killed You! It’s brilliant and sums up what everyone (both newbies and veterans) in the nursing industry are thinking.

Sonja uses humor to sum up different nursing situations which will make you cry with laughter. She’s just brilliant. Check it out on Amazon here.

new nurse book - oh shit i almost killed you

Click to see on Amazon #ad

Use Lavender

To be honest, this is a new-ish technique for me. My sister actually got me onto it. Lavender or vanilla if that’s more your style, have been heavily researched and proven to help you sleep. (sourceOpens in a new tab.)

We dive into more about lavender here –  Embracing Lavender Is The Key To Sleep For Shift Workers if you’re interested.

Using a diffuser like the URPOWER Essential Oil DiffuserOpens in a new tab. from Amazon would be a great start if you’re new to this smells game. The reviews on this product are insanely good! Creating your own day spa in your bedroom is more incredible than I first thought it would be.

Here are another two diffusers listed on our resources page we have used in the past and recommend for shift workers wanting to fall to sleep quickly.  

Park Stressful Conversations for Tomorrow

Anything really stressful or requiring lots of brain power (if not urgent) can wait for tomorrow.

Dan and I often “park” it and discuss these often complex and sometimes emotional issues once we have had some sleep.  

This also applies to nursing preceptors. Time those stressful conversations for after the student has finished their night shift and have had some sleep. You’ll get a much better response! Read more about being a nursing preceptor here.

6. Use Sleep Aids to Help You Sleep

Finding it hard to switch off after a busy shift? My mind still races now and it’s been over 10 years of nursing! I don’t know why it took me so long to seek help in the form of a few cheap, but super effective sleeping aids. But now I can’t look back.  

If you’re struggling in the sleeping department, don’t be like me and get some help early. These items will last you years and years and are ultimately priceless if you can get high-quality sleep.

If you’re new to adding sleep aids into your sleeping routine, here is where I would start.

An Effective Eye Mask

It’s no secret, we love eye masks!

Below Dan and I show the two we are loving right now. Dan is wearing one from Swanwick Sleep. He loves it because it’s big, silky, super soft and offers one strap. And I’m wearing one from Manata Sleep. It’s incredibly comfortable and offers 100% block-out. You’ve just got to try this thing!

If you need to see more variety we wrote a post comparing the best eye masks which is worth a read (or at least a scroll through the pictures). Check it out here.Opens in a new tab.

Ear Plugs or a Fan

Light and sound are often our biggest challenges when trying to sleep. We love Mack’s ear plugs as they stay in place and are super comfortable to wear.

If you hate the thought (or feel) of earplugs, have you considered using a pedestal fan? It can be directed away from you if you don’t enjoy the breeze. The noise of the spinning fans act almost like a white noise machine to create a distracting sound.

On our shift work tools page, we discuss our favorite fans and white noise machines which you can suss out here.

Sleep Music

Are you laying there staring at the ceiling thinking about all the things you forgot to do at work or need to do tomorrow? Sleep music can help. Browse our post titled, Sleep Music Facts, Playlists And Songs For Insomnia Sufferers for some excellent playlists and songs you may not have heard before.

A Quality Mattress

You spend about a third of your day sleeping so why not make it a comfortable experience? We love our mattress and bought it from Nolah. They are well worth a look if you need a new one.

A Great Pillow

We LOVE our Snuggle Peadic pillows. Big, comfortable and comes with a 20-year warranty. Check out our recommended shift work tools page here to find out more and where to get one! 

Dan Pillow _ The Other Shift|

If you’ve tried all these options and you still can’t sleep check out – How To Fall Asleep Quickly Even When You’re Not Tired. This post is packed with ideas we personally use as shift workers to beat the shift work routine.

[VIDEO] – If you need a few more sleep tips, check out this video I produced to help you finally sleep throughout the day!

In a sister post we wrote, 10 Must-Have Night Shift Sleep Aids For A Heavenly Sleep, you’ll find our other favorite sleep aids.

7. Eat Well

We are constantly harping on how our patients should have a balanced diet but we often don’t make time to prepare and eat healthy meals ourselves.

If eating well is new to your nursing routine or was quickly thrown at the window after your first shift, here is where to start:


Plan Your Meals

Meal planning can be tough for those working rotating shifts. Instead of thinking about your week from Monday-Sunday and trying to meal plan, why not simply plan for the shifts coming up in the next 3-4 days. Nothing more. 

We wrote a post titled, 12 Valuable Meal Prep Tips for Busy Shift Workers which is full of ideas you might not have considered to save you time and money. See the full post hereOpens in a new tab..

Women with donuts on fingers
Everything in moderation, right?

Don’t Forget to Bring Your Meals

Seems silly to highlight but it’s a sad moment getting to work, realizing you forgot your lunch.

Get into the habit of not relying on the vending machine or cafeteria for snacks and bring your own healthy ones. This will stop you feeling lethargic and getting run down.

When packing your meals, we recommend glass containers over plastic for so many reasons you can check out here.

If you need some healthy meal ideas, see this post. There are some really delicious recipes in there!

Also, don’t forget about your beverages to ensure you don’t become dehydrated overnight. We use this BEAST tumbler most of the time but we also love this personalised tumbler, particularly in October!

Think About Your Gut Health

You’re a nurse so I’m betting you knew that approximately 70 percent of your immune system hangs out in your gastrointestinal tract.

So…we need to look after our guts to make sure our digestion is on point. We can do this by reducing our cholesterol levels, ensuring we are having regular healthy bowel movements and we are eating and drinking foods that increase immunity and prevent cancer.

Drinking kombucha, eating sauerkrautOpens in a new tab., taking probiotic supplements and eating low-sugar yogurt can help balance out our gut health among a range of other foods.

This probiotic supplement from Zenwise Health Opens in a new hugely popular on Amazon and worth checking out if you want a little something extra.

Try Intermittent Fasting

There is another train of thought that intermittent fasting could help with weight loss and give our digestive systems a controlled break.

If you’re interested to read more, check out this post we did Should I Eat on Night Shift? Why Intermittent Fasting Works.

Use the Slow Cooker / Pressure Cooker

What other appliance allows you to use old veggies, cheap cuts of meat, and whole bunch of different sauces to create something delicious, filling and healthy!?

If you don’t have a slow cooker, we recommend the Instant Pot 7-in-1 Multi-Use Programmable Pressure Cooker/Slow Cooker.Opens in a new tab.

“This beauty combines 7 kitchen appliances in 1 – Pressure Cooker, Slow Cooker, Rice Cooker, Steamer, Sauté, Yogurt Marker and Warmer and prepares dishes up to 70% faster to support your busy shift work lifestyle!” (1). See it on Amazon

[VIDEO] – How To Stop Nausea and Bloating Ruining Your Night Shift

8. Exercise Daily

How are you going in the exercise department? When was the last time you washed some activewear?

It is true nurses move more than the average American, but I suggest not comparing yourself to the worst.

Exercise is not only a physical thing but also allows you to mentally unwind and become a better version of yourself. Personally, I find I’m more relaxed, more mindful and can handle complex issues when I’ve worked up a sweat, moreso than if I skip it.

Fitting exercise into our shift work schedule may look different from the 9-5 worker, but it’s not impossible.

To keep our brains sharp and bodies healthy, we need to exercise for at least 30 minutes per day. Breaking these up into 10 minutes slots is totally fine if you need to and are struggling with time.

Research shows though we are more susceptible for getting sick 72 hours post a very vigorous workout while your body repairs – so take it easy if you’re already feeling off and settle for a nice walk outside instead. 

We know us shift workers have a lot of excuses which we often entertain as funny to wiggle our way out of working out. 

We have a few recommendations on how we fit exercise into our irregular routine:

Jumping rope:
Quick, cheap, mobile and super effective. Read more here – 8 Impressive Jump Rope Benefits to Get That Killer Body. If you want a good, cheap rope, this is a goodie.

Exercise immediately after waking:
This method doesn’t really work if you’re rostered on for a morning / 1st shift (unless you want to get up at 4 am). Or ride your bike to work like me.

If you’re working a night shift or an afternoon / 2nd shift, have your workout clothes out by the door and make it the first thing you see in the morning / afternoon. It helps make the gym choice easy!

Home gym:
Not everyone digs the gym or taking a fitness class. Here are some of the best equipment we recommend for your home gym.

Even if you don’t have one ounce of flexibility in your body (like me!) you will learn to LOVE yoga.

People often tell me I am a little ‘wired’ and try to pack to much into my day and I have found yoga not only keeps me strong and builds my endurance, but it’s incredibly relaxing for my active mind.

[VIDEO] – Best Time To Exercise When Working Night Shift

9. Use Your Roster to Your Advantage

Do you know what’s cool about nursing? Well, where do I start? Having to do no work at home, wearing scrubs every day and actually making a difference in somebody’s life are just a few that spring to mind for me.

But one of the best bits about nursing is we get to choose our schedule. We are in a fortunate position where we get to request our roster around the other important things in our life.

But how do you use it to your advantage?

I love this subject because nursing has allowed me to do some really sneaky things and go on some epic holidays, while only requesting half that time as leave.

Enjoying even a short vacation can stop you from getting sick and feeling burnt out. Request weekends off once a month and book in a short vacation overnight.

You get paid to take leave – don’t just let it sit going to waste.

We have also created a few helpful posts about planning your shift work life you will enjoy:

Ultimate roster scheduling guide for rotating shift worker - The Other Shift - Hand holding phone with shift work app on screen | Shift worker

10. Surround Yourself With Positive, Supportive People

People complain… a lot and about anything and everything.

Have you noticed it yet in your nursing career? I’m sure you have.

My advice, is don’t get caught up in these conversations about negative stuff. It’s contagious, dangerous and takes too much energy.

Other grads and new staff may stress and talk about things out of their control. Just be careful of these conversations if you have the tendency to get too involved.

If somebody is telling you about an issue that they are not happy with, be supportive and listen but know when enough is enough and it’s beyond your control.

Secondly, how do you find positive, supportive people?

How do you make friends as an adult? And when is it socially acceptable to swap numbers and add each other on social media? Seems hilarious, but it’s true!

In my experience, if you find somebody you gel with, just go with it and ask them to hang out after work. Even if you classify yourself as young and you find that older nurse who you think is pretty cool – go with it! Before you know it, a group of nurses and other health professionals will be coming along too!

The pub was and still is, a good bonding place for us (as it was conveniently located across the road!), but coffee works well too. Dog parks are even becoming hugely popular, which is great for the single shift workers out there.

Nursing Recommendation

Have you ever heard of They use to be called NRSNG. The company was established in 2014 by Jon Haws, a registered Neuro ICU nurse at the time who was helping other nurses by sharing study tips and advice. is now a booming nursing help website. They have four different academies depending on where you are at in your nursing journey and they are each worth a look.

This company has seriously thought of everything! Plus they feel different from other nursing study websites. More personal. More genuine.

Take a look at how can help you and your nursing career here.

Summary: How Do Nurses Not Get Sick? 10 Tips To Staying Healthy

How are you supposed to adequately assess your patient, survive a short change over shift and have the stamina to last 8+ hours if you don’t take the time to do things for yourself? 

Looking after yourself is not selfish, rude, a ‘waste of time’ or ‘only for the hippies,’ which is what I thought 10+ years ago when I started nursing and potentially how you feel now.

Nurses at any age, need to look after themselves even BETTER than they look after their patients. Doing anything less can impact the care you provide and potentially lead to missed steps when caring for someone.

This is Part 2 of 3

Through this exciting three-part new nurse series, we dive into how to stop feeling incompetent, avoiding getting sick and feeling run down and how to look after yourself as a shift worker. Plus, so much more. Find links to the other posts below.

Jump back to Part 1 (they can be read in any order): Being a New Nurse is Hard. How to Stop Feeling Incompetent

Or, dive into Part 3: New Nurse Confidence Booster: Why Your Not an Idiot

Thanks for reading this post about beating the blues and staying healthy as a new graduate. How is your grad year going? Let us know in the comments below.


Emma signature |

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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.

One thought on “How Do Nurses Not Get Sick? 10 Tips To Staying Healthy

  1. This is EXACTLY the type of content I’ve been looking for and needed to read as a new grad! Thank you for sharing your insight 🙂

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