Working the night shift: preparation, survival and recovery

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A guide for junior doctors

Working at night is an essential part of providing a comprehensive 24-hour service for patients in the NHS, but it obviously causes sleep deprivation and fatigue for the doctors who provide that service. Night work can therefore have serious consequences for both patient and doctor safety, as it increases the risk of making poor decisions or even mistakes.

This succinct guide provides straightforward advice on how best to prepare before working night shifts, how to stay alert and refreshed while on duty, and how to recover from working nights. The advice is clearly presented, enabling junior doctors to maximise their ability to cope with working at a time when their bodies want to sleep.

The guide has been prepared on behalf of a multidisciplinary working group convened by the Royal College of Physicians and led by Nicholas Horrocks and Roy Pounder. It will be an invaluable resource for junior doctors and indeed, many others who work night shifts in hospitals.


  • Sleep and shift work
  • Night work and safety
  • Preparing for the night shift
  • Successful sleep at home
  • Getting plenty of sleep before your first night shift
  • Taking an afternoon sleep
  • Can you adapt to night work
  • Surviving the night shift
  • Maintaining your alertness and vigilance while on duty
  • Napping while on duty
  • Bright light
  • Eating at night
  • Caffine
  • Recovering fromt he night shift
  • Getting home from work
  • Working further night shifts
  • Before you go to bed
  • Sleeping in the day time
  • Recovering after your final night shift
  • The way ahead

Working the night shift full text available to download as a pdf.

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