How to Prepare for Your First 12 Hour Night Shift

Waking up as the sun goes down, clocking in as everyone else clocks out, and eating “lunch” at midnight – for daytime workers this may feel backwards but for night shift workers this is just a regular day. Working 12 hour night shifts can be physically and mentally difficult but, if you prepare properly, you can pull through your first 12 hour night shift like a pro!

Prepare for your first 12-hour night shift by starting in the days leading up to shift one. Inform those you live with, make healthier food choices, adjust your bedroom for daytime sleep, purchase sleep aids and transition your sleep cycle by staggering your bedtime to become as late as possible.

Moving to 12 hour night shift is going to be a big adjustment and it may be intimidating to take on all by yourself. Luckily, with a little help from the detailed knowledge and tips we have compiled here from years of night shift experience, you can be more than prepared to conquer whatever is thrown your way!

The Days Before Your First Night Shift

Tell Those Around You

Preparing for your first night shift starts in the days before you work.

A great place to start is letting your friends or family know that you will be working at night time later this week.

Remind those close to you that you will be asleep during the day prior to your night shift and therefore may not answer daytime phone calls or requests to hangout.

You may also want to place a small note on your front door, such as this popular one from Amazon (#ad) asking for any mail or delivery personnel to skip ringing the doorbell when leaving packages.

Notifying those around you of your schedule change will not only keep them from worrying about your lack of response that day but will also help you to avoid having your phone or doorbell ring right as you finally fall asleep before your shift.

Managing night shift / 2nd shift with a family? Check out this post for some impactful tips.

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Make Healthy Food Choices

In the days before you work, plan out what you want to eat and drink during your night shift.

When working day shift, you have the option of leaving your workplace to grab lunch or coffee at a nearby restaurant. Unfortunately, most food services are closed during the late night hours so you will likely need to prepare and pack your own food and drinks for your lunch break.

Even with adequate sleep, staying up all night is difficult and unnatural for your body, so you will want to pack healthy, energizing food to help you power through.

Avoid packing junk food or a meal that is too high in carbohydrates since these choices will only slow you down, leave you feeling tired and usually bloated (find out how to stop night shift bloating here).

Try to prepare a balanced meal that includes protein and vitamin-rich foods to help fuel your body naturally all night long.

If you plan to drink coffee or tea to help you stay awake later in your shift, you may want to bring an extra pack with you just in case your workplace is unable to supply these products or runs out during your shift.

But just remember to stop drinking caffeine-fueled food and drinks 5-6 hours before you intend on sleeping as we describe in this post and instead try drinking a caffeine-free option we talk about in this helpful post.

Having a healthy meal and your drink of choice ready-to-go will save you time and stress in the hours before your night shift and will ensure your body has all the nutritional support it needs to function well on a nighttime schedule.

Success tip:
Eating enough fruits and veggies is often a challenge for night shift workers. I drink SuperGreen TONIK green juice to keep me healthy and stop me getting sick – and I can’t recommend it enough! Interested to hear more? Check out our review here.

Fix Up Your Sleep Space

Creating a calm and dark environment, almost “cave-like” will promote better sleep and help your body to quickly adjust to your new sleep schedule.

Hanging “black-out” curtains like the ones we recommend here, that will totally block sunlight from your bedroom window is a simple yet effective way to dramatically improve your sleep environment.

If you are especially sensitive to light or noise when you sleep at night you will likely be even more sensitive to disturbances when trying to sleep during the day.

If this sounds like you, purchasing a soft sleep mask like our favorite one from Swanwick Sleep here, to cover your eyes or grabbing some earplugs at a pharmacy or through Amazon here will be a smart and simple fix.

For some strange reason, acquiring new sheets, pillows and a comfortable mattress also significantly boosted our sleep on night shift. Dream Cloud made this happen really and I remember getting some great deals back we made a few big, but loved purchases before starting nights for the first time.

If your sheets and bedding are looking a little ratty, check out Dream Cloud by clicking the image below.

While you’re out shopping, you may also want to pick up an over-the-counter sleep aid to provide extra support for daytime sleep.

Let’s discuss some common sleep aids that are popular with night shift workers.

Popular Sleep Remedies

Getting proper sleep and making healthy food choices is the best and most important way to support your body in transitioning to your new night shift schedule.

However, having an additional remedy to encourage your body to fall asleep when you need it to can be very helpful, especially when adjusting to night shift for the first time.

As always, you should speak with your doctor or pharmacist before trying any new product, even if it can be purchased over-the-counter but the sleep aids most night shift workers turn to are gentle and historically very safe.


One of the most popular products to encourage sleep is Melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone naturally found in the body that helps to regulate our sleep cycles.

If your body’s natural melatonin supply just isn’t doing the trick, you can try an over-the-counter melatonin supplement.

These supplements can come in the form of a pill, dissolvable tablet, or gummy.

Melatonin products won’t typically “knock you out” like a prescribed sleep medication will but they do create a light, sleepy feeling and won’t leave you feeling foggy long after you wake up.

Melatonin is gentle yet effective and makes a great almost natural supplement to help with falling asleep before your first night shift.

There are some things to consider however which we specifically spoke about in our post titled, My Top Tip for Taking Melatonin on Night Shift: Plus 10 More which we encourage you to read before you hit the shops.

Stronger Sleep Aids

“Diphenhydramine” is a popular ingredient in many common over-the-counter sleep aids.

Products like ZzzQuil and Restoral contain this active ingredient and are stronger, more impactful than melatonin when trying to fall asleep quickly.

Diphenhydramine is safe when taken correctly according to the product’s instructions but does leave some workers feeling drowsy even after they wake up.

If you find that daytime sleep is difficult and other more natural remedies are not effective, then trying a sleep aid containing Diphenhydramine may be your best bet for achieving restful daytime sleep.

Despite their popularity, some sleeping medications do still make me a little nervous, so we wrote a post titled, Insomnia and Shift Work Sleep Disorder Medication Review to help separate the rumors from the facts. Check out the post for yourself here.

Pill container | Insomnia and Shift Work Sleep Disorder Medication Review

The Night Before

Staying Up Late

The evening before your night shift is an important time to consider in your preparation.

At this time tomorrow night you will need to be wide awake, so it would be wise to start your sleep adjustment the night prior to your shift.

Everyone approaches this “night before” differently but a common approach is to take a nap early in the evening so that you can stay awake through the rest of the night.

This is a great way to practice being awake at night time except you’ll be in a much more comfortable environment with much less stress than there is at work.

The night before your shift can be spent staying up late with friends, going to the gym to fit in some exercise, doing chores and cleaning the house, or anything else that will keep your body awake and active.

You should avoid activities like watching TV or reading a book that are likely to put you to sleep. By staying awake and active as much as possible the night before your night shift, you will hopefully leave your body naturally very tired by the next morning when you will need to fall asleep.

Related post: How To Best Prepare for the Night Shift and Stay Healthy

Man on Computer | Activating night shift mode actually leads to better sleep
Look familiar?

Waking Up Early

If staying up the night before doesn’t work for you, many workers go to bed a little earlier and simply wake up very early in the morning before they want daytime sleep.

If you wake up around 3 AM, hit the gym, run some errands, and stay very active during those morning hours, you may very likely be tired and ready to sleep by 9 or 10 AM.

This method can leave you just as tired and ready for daytime sleep as staying up the night before will.

Waking up early like this may work better for workers who need to switch between day and night shift quickly since waking up a few hours early isn’t as big of a schedule adjustment as staying up the entire night before.

However you decide to approach preparing for daytime sleep, just remember to be realistic with your body.

Some people will adapt quicker than others to a night shift schedule but if this is your first time making this adjustment then it will probably take a few tries before you find what sleep schedule and products work for you.

You may need to develop a different “bedtime routine” before daytime sleep.

There may be nights when you feel ill and staying up that whole night before just isn’t a healthy choice.

You may need to lean on caffeine and sleep aids more so in the beginning but after time find that you are able to easily fall asleep all on your own.

Making any major change in your life is difficult but with good preparation and a positive attitude, you’ll find what works for you soon enough.

Need a night shift friendly alarm clock which is not your cell phone?
Check out this post for the best alarm clocks for 3rd shift workers which doesn’t result in a bad mood (and even worse start to your night!)

Girl sleeping | How Long Should You Sleep Before A Night Shift? The Other Shift

The Hours Before Your Shift

Start Healthy

So you were able to get some sleep today and now you’re awake and preparing to head in for your first 12-hour night shift – what else can you do to ensure your night is a success?

Start your night right with a healthy but substantial meal. Remember your digestive system is in tune with your circadian rhythm (ie, the sun) so stick to eating food when your digestive system can easily break them down rather than leaving a bigger meal for later in the shift.

A fruit smoothie or protein shake is a great option and is easy to take along when you do get hungry later.

Check out this post for more helpful tips – When Should I Eat on Night Shift? or read this book easily available on Amazon for game-changing tips. (#ad)

Another great way to start your evening is with some light physical activity.

You likely won’t have the same energy after night shift as you do after day shift, so try to fit in a quick jog around the block or even 5 minutes of jumping jacks to get your blood pumping before work.

Need more motivation and inspiration to exercise on a night shift? Read this post. It will help.

5 tips to solve your crazy shift work exercise excuses

Start Clean

After you’re dressed and ready, there are still a few things you can do to prepare for a successful night.

As annoying as it was as a kid, taking 5 minutes to make your bed and set out clean pajamas for later is an awesome habit to get into as a working adult – especially when you work the night shift.

Coming home to a cleanly made bed and fresh clothes can provide a little extra sense of accomplishment that will always close your night on a positive note.

While you’re getting clothes ready, consider putting your blue light blocking glasses in a handy location too. You don’t need to start a treasure hunt when you’ve been awake for too long.

If you don’t know what blue light blocking glasses do, if they are worth the money and where you can buy them, check out this post here. We cannot recommend them highly enough.

Use Your Tech

If you drive or carpool, don’t forget to check on traffic.

You may find that certain roads are more or less congested in the evening than in the morning.

Allow a little extra time for your commute before your first night shift.

While you’re on your phone or computer, another great way to start your night right is to send a quick message of gratitude or positivity to someone.

A quick text before you leave home or even a phone call while you drive to work is a great way to stay connected despite living in a different schedule than someone else.

Connecting over the phone or social media before work is especially nice if your friends or family work during the daytime and probably won’t be awake to talk later in the night when you’re on break.

Need a hand getting home safely after night shift? Check out this post we wrote for some epic tips which actually work to get you home in one piece.

VIDEO – Will Your Next 12-Hour Shift Ruin You? We Need to Talk


Summary: How to Prepare for Your First 12 Hour Night Shift

The old cliche “fail to prepare and be prepared to fail” certainly applies to gearing up for a night shift, but now you know what and how to prepare so you can be a night shift success!

As you head out the door, don’t forget to smile, stay positive, and know that you are ready to conquer your job – day or night.



P.s. Are you a new nurse? Don’t forget to check out our New Nurse Survival Kit here.

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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