night shift nursing

Night Shift Nurses

night shift nursingWhy do some nurses choose to work the night shift? What are the benefits of working at night? What are the problems that arise from being a night owl? Let’s answer all of these questions, and a few more.

Night shift nurses are there either because of shift rotation or by choice on a permanent basis. Night shift in most nursing positions is quiet and relaxed. The exception is the emergency room and sometimes ICU units where things become hectic even at night.

But for the nurses who are on permanent night shift by choice, they are the night owls, or the insomniacs of nursing. They enjoy the backward schedule of being awake while everyone else is fast asleep. Senior Administrators and Managers are also at home asleep at night which gives the night shift crew a more relaxed atmosphere. Patients are also mostly sleeping as well and are generally more cooperative with the nurses than they are during the day.
But for those that are on night shift due to regular shift rotation or long term assignment and not accustomed to nights, they have a hard time adjusting, especially if they don’t bring a bunch of snacks to help them stay awake!

The body’s internal clock is naturally set to sleep mode when it gets dark, so those that work nights due to schedule rotation are completely out of sync with their normal routine.

If a nurse is lucky enough to be in a position where he or she is constantly busy during their shift, then the night glides by pretty smoothly for them and they can adapt with a few cups of coffee. But even at that, nights for the unaccustomed are simply grueling. And then after their shift and getting home and trying to sleep as the sun rises presents another challenge to the nurse, as the body is screaming that you should be awake and not going to bed.

Even veteran night shift nurses will tell you that the night shift is not as easy as some think it is. Sleeping during the day is difficult enough, but if a nurse lives in a place where there are constant loud noises during the day or has young children at home that require attention then the nurse working night shift tends to lose a lot of sleep. And this eventually takes its toll on the body and extreme fatigue sets in.

Lack of sleep results in all kinds of problematic issues, and in addition to fatigue, moodiness also comes into play. People tend to become agitated more easily and often are on a short fuse due to lack of sleep.

Another problem presented by working night shift is eating. Since the body is naturally accustomed to eating at certain times of the day, night shift throws a curve ball at your appetite. A lot of nurses become so addicted to caffeine from coffee, soda, and high energy drinks to stay awake at night, that after a time, the caffeine no longer is effective. And since your appetite is totally out of sync from eating sugary junk foods and caffeine drinks to stay awake you no longer can maintain a balanced diet. A balanced diet is one of the key functions to staying healthy and when the diet gets thrown out of sync, the body eventually suffers and health issues start to arise from it.

On the flip side, many nurses are able to adapt without much fuss. And those nurses who are naturally night people to begin with relish the joys of working the night shift. At night the pace is much slower as most patients are asleep. Night shift nurses also feel a greater sense of independence and autonomy. Especially since the bosses are at home sleeping. During the day when senior staff is on duty, everything is fast paced and everyone is looking over their shoulder. Which is true at most other jobs and not just with nursing.

In addition, most hospitals and medical facilities pay a bonus to workers for working night shift.

During the night when things are slowed down, is when nurses are able to spend more quality time with their patients than during the day. If a patient isn’t able to sleep and needs to talk, night shift nurses have the extra time to spend with that patient, whereas nurses working the day shift are busy with all of the hustle and bustle that is occurring during the day. There are doctors making their rounds during the day of their patients and making changes to treatments or ordering various medical procedures, so the night shift nurse has things a lot easier in that aspect of things.

Another upside to the night shift crew is that since they have more time to get things done, they tend to be more proficient than their daytime counterparts.

Once a nurse adjusts to the night shift as fully as possible, things will eventually get better. You will still fight the battle to stay awake, but it will not be as difficult once your body has finally adjusted.

Planning ahead for night shift when you work rotating shifts is also a good idea. Even though you may be tired when you arrive home in the morning, you may not be able to fall asleep right away and you will still be alert. Take advantage of that time in the morning when you are still alert by doing things that need to be done, such as paying bills, making important calls, e.t.c. Once you do go to sleep, more often than not, you wont have time to do those tasks when you do wake up and have to get ready for work again.

One other thing to note about nurses who work the night shift on a permanent basis is that since Hospital Administrators are all gone for the day when you arrive for your shift, they do not get to see you work and you tend to be forgotten. Especially by those administrators who are directly responsible for promoting you and advancing your career. If you want to advance in your career while on night shift, you need to get noticed. Volunteer to work in various projects that get you noticed, like working as the liaison with EMS or getting together with daytime administrators to help coordinate night schedules, or other various activities. Anything that gets you noticed for your hard work and contributions by senior staff always helps you out in the long run in career advancement.

Night shift nurses also form a closer bond with their coworkers and patients than their daytime counterparts. This is made possible by not having the hectic activities that go on during the day.

The night owls of nursing are a tight nit group and while we sleep, they are awake taking care of their charges.
As for hiring practices of night shift, every medical facility that operates 24 hours has a night shift. And since most people always want to work days, if you’re a natural night owl, then you should have no problem getting assigned to night shift and allow someone who would rather work days, to get back on days and their normal daytime routine. What is normal for the night owl nurses is total chaos for those that are day time oriented. In addition, you also enjoy that extra pay that comes with working night shift.

So while night shift has is downsides, it also has it’s upsides to those that enjoy being up at night.


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George Tall

Author at Hug Your Nurse
George Tall works in the legal field, is a father of three, and a husband of a RN for 25 years. He enjoys writing about everything, especially nursing! He has been writing for a living, at least partially, since around 2000. As an author on dozens of websites, he enjoys being factual, while spinning a bit of humor where possible.
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