“Be prepared” may be the Scouts’ official motto, but I think it applies to the night shift too. A stocked locker can see you through everything from a headache to a wardrobe malfunction. If you don’t have a permanent locker, you can also use pouches or packing cubes and fill a backpack with these necessities.
One of the biggest surprises at my first hospital job was that if you needed a Tylenol or Tums, no one could give you one. Of course, this seems obvious now—nurses cannot be handing out meds without doctors’ orders! But my naive young self thought: “They’ve got plenty of Tylenol! Why can’t I have just one for my splitting headache?” I quickly learned to bring what I needed to care for myself, just like at any other job.
Keeping over-the-counter medications on hand for minor issues can get you through a long night shift. It might mean you don’t have to suffer through your whole shift with a headache or terrible cramps. Here’s what you might pack, depending on your needs:
- Pain medications (e.g., acetaminophen or ibuprofen) for headaches, aches, or menstrual cramps
- Antacids for heartburn
- Non-drowsy allergy meds for an allergy flare-up or reaction
A mini-bar (of sorts)
Staying hydrated is essential for any job, but especially during night shift to keep you awake and energized.
- Mini cans of sparkling water to keep things interesting (I love lime or lemon)
- Juice boxes for some portable energy
- Instant coffee packets for a mid-shift coffee pick-me-up
- Mint or citrus tea bags for a caffeine-free perk
Snacking can be a great way to keep energy levels up during a long shift. There might be nights when you slide into your shift without enough food to get you through. Or maybe you’re just extra hungry some nights. Having a few small sealed packs of munchies can work wonders:
- Light tuna: Buy single-serving cans or vacuum-packed pouches. Eat with a few whole grain crackers for a snack or scoop onto a salad for lunch.
- Fruit cups: Try unsweetened mandarin oranges, fruit cocktail, pineapple, or peaches packed in water or juice. Applesauce works well too.
- Trail mix: Make your own with nuts, seeds, dried fruits, popcorn, and multigrain pretzels.
- Granola, nut, or seed bars: Choose plain bars with less sugar and more fibre.
- Nutritious crackers: Add some peanut butter for extra protein.
A change of clothes can solve so many problems, whether it’s a nighttime chill, a spill, or an, ahem, bodily fluids incident with a patient. The night shift can be chilly as our body temperature drops due to our circadian rhythm. You might also want an extra outfit in your bag for those days when you head straight from work to other activities.
- Extra layers (e.g., hoodie or sweater)
- A scarf (it can double as a small lap blanket on cold nights)
- A fresh set of scrubs
- An extra pair of shoes (Really! This is a must if you’re working in the trauma bay.)
- A spare outfit including socks and underwear
Some overnight jobs come with downtime. If this is the case for you—or if you need a good option for your breaks—a bit of entertainment can go a long way to keep you awake.
- Books, magazines, or crossword puzzles to stay mentally stimulated
- Hobby supplies (e.g., embroidery thread or drawing supplies)
- Headphones so you can listen to music or watch a show
Sneak in extra movement anytime by bringing some workout gear.
- Jump rope for some quick cardio
- Resistance bands for strength training
- Yoga mat (depending on the size of your locker)
- Running shoes
Bring a charger for every device you have. Buy an extra long cord so it reaches your workstation. If you’re feeling extra, pack a power bar with an extension cord too.
Keep yourself feelin’ fresh with some personal hygiene products. Be sure to replenish as needed.
- A stick of deodorant for long or stressful shifts
- Wet wipes for a quick sponge bath if no shower is available
- Hand sanitizer
- Lip balm for chapped lips—bonus if it’s minty to perk you up
- Dry shampoo for a quick refresh
- Toothbrush and toothpaste to freshen your breath with a minty wake-up (I prefer toothpaste tablets since they’re quick, convenient, and compact.)
- Pads, tampons, or other menstrual supplies
- Hair ties
- Stain remover stick because snack-accidents happen
- Lotion for cracked hands
Once you’ve got your locker fully stocked, you’ll be ready to face whatever the night shift throws you. Make it easy to find when you need in a flash with small containers or pouches. But beware—once you’re known as having a Mary Poppins locker, your coworkers will come begging. Leverage your power as you wish. 😉