Nutrition For Night Shift Nurses

5 Tips for Night Shift Nurses

Being a night shift nurse is hard all around. Between the sleep schedule, and the eating schedule, it makes some difficult things in life a little more difficult. I worked nights when I first started working as an RN and I instantly gained weight. I worked nights a total of 9 months and by the end of it I had gained 30 pounds. THIRTY.

Working nights, or shift work in general is challenging and naturally yields bad habits, but the weight gain is completely avoidable.  It just takes some preparation and awareness! I am going to share 5 tips that I wish I had when I was working nights that would have prevented the weight gain.

  1. Be Prepared. I know this sounds so simple it’s almost ridiculous, but it’s so much harder than it sounds. I was terrible at prepping food and showing up to work with adequate amounts of GOOD QUALITY FOOD to fuel my night. When your off your busy making up for lost time from the previous week that the last thing on your mind is to prepare for the next week. I would stop by whole foods and pick up frozen meals, bags of chips etc. Yes, I knew there was a hot bar with great quality food I just could have made myself something to go, and picked up some fresh fruits and veggies but when you fail to prepare and you are about to go in for your “first of three” (nursing term) the last thing you want to do is eat healthy. You are sad, stressed, tired, and overwhelmed and since I didn’t pack any good quality foods to eat my emotions led me to the processed and frozen crap. Take your last day before you head in for the night to prepare at least three solid meals for your three shifts and pick up enough good quality snacks in your grocery run to take with you as well. Having salmon and broccoli, carrots, cucumbers, raspberries and nut mix is a much better alternative.
  2. Will power. This goes along with being prepared, but they are also very separate. I can’t tell you how many times I did come to work prepared but then the whole crew decided to order pizza, or tiff’s treats. So in that moment, i’m like eh whatever I can just eat this tomorrow night i’ll just eat pizza tonight, when then just starts a nasty cycle for the rest of the week. If your tempted by the pizza or cookies, my best advice wound be to eat what you’ve packed first and then by the end of your shift if your still hungry have a little pizza/cookies. I bet that if you still do want it, you won’t be as hungry so you’ll just have a bite or two orrrrr you won’t be hungry at all and then you just dodged a bullet.
  3. Just because it’s a slow night doesn’t mean your hungry. Don’t get me wrong, night can be CRAZY BUSY but at the end of the day it doesn’t compare to day shift. On day shift I can say i’ve never had the opportunity to overeat when in fact it’s the opposite, sometimes I forget to eat. I will never forget the nights that just dragged and dragged. Everyone is sleeping, no one is crashing, and none of your co-workers need help. You can only check instagram and facebook so many times at 2AM to find that no one has posted anything new, because guess what, most normal people are sleeping. You’ve done all your health-streams (or whatever system your hospital uses) until December 2019 and your still bored. This is when I had eaten all the food I had brought, snacked on all the candy that my favorite candy lover co-worker would bring and yet I was still looking for more opportunities to eat more food even though I wasn’t necessarily hungry. I would eat the cheese, peanut butter and graham crackers, tomato soup, and cereal provided for the patients. I knew I wasn’t hungry but yet I continued to snack. A solution for this wound be to pack EXTRA veggies, like so many veggies you have to go back to the grocery store the next day to restock. Being some hummus, bean dip, cheese dip or whatever you like because eating excess of that is way better than filling up on processed crap.
  4. Stay hydrated. If you drink lots of water (half your body weight in ounces) to be exact, you will feel less bloated, less hungry, and actually have more energy. This will help with the bored and mindless eating. When you think you are hungry drink 8 ounces of water, wait 5-10 minutes and I bet that hunger feeling will go away. When you are hydrated, you feel better and when you feel better you want to eat less crap. It’s a cycle, and a good one! Buy yourself a cute water bottle, or a yeti and drink away. Instead of eating when your bored, try this one. Drink a bunch of water and then wait till you have to pee. Use a bladder scanner when you have to pee to see how much urine is in your bladder. Get a “hat” and put it in the toilet to measure the amount of urine and then see how accurate your bladder scanner is at your hospital. My co-workers and I have definitely done this on multiple occasions lol.
  5. Start with your habits/choices. Every choice you make stems from you emotions. How you feel about yourself internally & externally will dictate what you do. Stressed? Alcohol, Sad? Excess carbs/sugar, Exhausted? Easiest option because you don’t have enough energy to care, Well rested/happy? You want to continue feeling that way right…. Well that yields good choices which makes you want to continue all the behavior that made you feel more rested and happy in the first place. What were those things? 7-8 hours of good sleep, 3-5 solid days of exercising, making good nutrition choices MOST of the time, keeping the alcohol intake as low as your social life allows. This is probably the hardest thing, because its more than one moment, it’s about the way you live your life and the way you take control of your stress and emotions.

When I worked nights I can remember not doing these things well at all, I already had a bad attitude about the upcoming week before it happened, which I realized later on stemmed all my bad habits and choices. If you focus on your mental health and happiness all the rest will fall into place. Also, maybe ask your supervisor/manager if you can move to says as soon as possible, lol 😉 unless you like working nights, and if you do more power to you! Try and implement these things and see how you start to feel.

xoxo- Alex Murphy, RN, BSN