Taking control of shift work so that it doesn’t control you!

Amy Benn RN, Founder of Wholeheart Magazine




I found it challenging to manage my health and well-being while I pursued my chosen specialty, Intensive Care Nursing in one of Melbourne’s major metropolitan hospitals and worked towards becoming a teacher of the nursing profession. Alongside my post-graduate training in nursing, I studied Meditation, Fitness and Nutrition — all in the pursuit of implementing positive lifestyle habits in my own life to improve my own health.


All of these strategies help me to thrive while doing shift work. They work for me, but they may not work for everyone. It’s a process of trial and error for all of us. Choose the strategies that you find connecting and develop your own routine that serves your individual routine and well-being.

Shift work and sleep patterns

Aim to get quality sleep where there is optimal time spent in deep and REM sleep. Adopt a regular routine. It can seem impossible, but you can achieve this even alongside shift work.

Encourage yourself to not fall victim to shift work, but instead use my tips to see how you can structure your daily routines to thrive in life despite your busy schedule.

Keep regular sleeping and waking cycles

Keep your sleeping and waking times within two-hour windows.

For example, if you go to sleep at 10pm on a day off, make a conscious effort to go to bed between 9pm and 11pm when you are on shift.

If you wake up at 5am for your early shift, then sleeping in no later than 7am on a day off or afternoon shift will keep your routine in check.

Optimal napping

It is possible to nap strategically to “catch up” without compromising the quality of your night’s sleep. Continue to wake up within your 2-hour cycle, and take a 20–40-minute nap mid-morning or mid-afternoon. Your nap can be before an afternoon shift, midday on a day off, or as soon as you get home after an early. I know it can be difficult, but avoid sleeping for longer than 40 minutes. Going for a walk and rehydrating afterwards will help you get to sleep that night.

Perk yourself up naturally

You can arrive happy and productive for your shift and feel ready to take on the day’s problems if you stimulate your mind and body by creating morning rituals.

My suggested morning rituals fall into three categories:

Health: Prime your ‘physical’ self

  1. Hydration: Drink a mug full of water before your morning brew to rehydrate.
  2. Nourish: Stimulate your digestion and fuel your body with a wholefood meal (or smoothie). Fire up your metabolism and enjoy sustained energy.
  3. Movement: Moving your body is a great way to wake up. You could try a 10-minute brisk walk from your car, or try two sets of 12 squat-jumps while the kettle boils. Try yoga flows or dance and stretching accompanied one of your favourite songs.

Mind: Prime your ‘mental’ self

  1. Mindfulness practice: If you’re not ready for meditation, try five minutes of mindfully sipping your favourite hot drink as you gather your thoughts in silence.
  2. Breathing techniques: Breathing exercises are a wonderful way to distance yourself from the busy thoughts of your brain. Great techniques include alternate nostril breathing, box breathing and slow deep belly breaths.
  3. Connection: Connect with somebody you love. Feed your fur baby or give them a pat. Offer some kind words and a kiss to your loved one. Even just writing a little note, or getting their favourite coffee mug out.

Passion: Prime your ‘spiritual’ self

  1. Gratitude: Connect to YOU by either saying or writing 3 things you are grateful for.
  2. Goals: It’s useful to have dreams, broken down into meaningful, achievable steps you can take each day. Even if it is to face a problem that needs to be solved. Setting your intention is powerful.
  3. Inspiration: Top yourself up by reading or listening to something interesting or inspiring. Perhaps listen to a podcast on your way to work, or even just read a page of an inspiring book.

Naturally calm yourself down

I don’t think I’m alone in saying that sleeping after a shift, particularly an evening shift can be difficult! Lying in bed, counting down the hours till you have to get up again for a morning shift can be agonising. Spend time getting to know what works for YOU! Explore the obstacles in the way of naturally falling asleep. Once identified, you can implement strategies that will work for you.

Calm your ‘physical’ self

  1. Body aches and pain: Aches can impair sleep, particularly when we work physically. Do some foam rolling, stretching or self-massage.
  2. Wash away the day: Take a warm shower, lavender oil is great for relaxation.
  3. Limit light and sound: Dim the lights or just use a lamp. Listening to some slow instrumental music or binaural beats are good for slowing your mind.

Calm your ‘mental’ self

  1. Journal: Writing down the thoughts that are spinning around in your head can be beneficial. Having a to do list next to your bed can help place your mind at ease.
  2. Reflect: If you find yourself replaying the events of the day or the shift in your mind, ask yourself questions like:
    • What happened?
    • Were there influencing factors involved?
    • What could I have done next time?
    • Or call Nurse and Midwife Support on 1800 667 877 if you need extra guidance!
  3. Breathe: Use breathing practices. They calm the nervous system by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. Try Box Breathing or the Calm app, which has free membership for Health Practitioners.

Calm your ‘inner’ self

  1. Acknowledgment: In your journal, tick off the goals that you achieved that day.
  2. Preparation: Set your intention and make life easier by packing healthy food for the next day, laying out your workout clothes and having your journal nearby.
  3. Give thanks: Write what you are grateful for, what you learned that day.

Take control of shift work so that it doesn’t control you. This will assist you to live a balanced life and enable you to live your BEST life.

Amy Benn
Registered Nurse
Director and Editor Wholeheart Magazine


If you need support to juggle parenting or other care commitments and shift work, give Nurse & Midwife Support a call on 1800 667 877. We’re here for advice, referrals, or just a willing ear to vent some of the steam that might be building between your ears.

If you need to talk, our service provides free and confidential support 24/7 to nurses, midwives and students Australia wide. If you would like to speak to someone call 1800 667 877, or you can request support via email.

If you’d like to know a bit more about the service before getting in contact — take a look through accessing support.

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