There are many shift options to choose from in the nursing profession, from 8-hour day shifts to 12-hour night shifts.
Each shift has its pros and cons, but there’s no question that the night shift brings with it a unique set of challenges.
While challenging, it does have significant benefits.
Is working night shift hard? Yes, many nurses, especially ones that are new to the field, will find working night shift difficult. Although it can be challenging, it also has its benefits. There are a lot of ways to make working night shift easier, too.
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Is working night shift hard?
Whether you’ve chosen to work night shift or it was the only option given to you, there are plenty of ways to make the most of this unique opportunity.
The most difficult task is getting your body to adjust to the unusual sleep pattern.
Once you have that down, you might find that you actually prefer the night shift.
Why is night shift hard?
Night shift is hard because it goes against everything our body is taught to do from a young age- stay awake during the day and sleep at night.
In addition to altering your natural sleep pattern, night shift can also wreak havoc on other areas of the body.
A study out of The University of Colorado at Boulder linked night shift with changing over 100 proteins in the blood, including ones that have a direct impact on blood sugar and metabolism (source).
That may be why night shift workers are more likely to be overweight and may develop debilitating diseases like diabetes and cancer.
The night shift can also have a significant impact on your personal life, including the amount of time you spend with your family and friends.
While you’re sleeping during the day, your loved ones are out living their lives.
Conversely, while you’re working at night, your loved ones are peacefully sleeping.
This opposite schedule can make it difficult to spend time together each day, but there are ways to make the time you do spend together more enjoyable and more impactful.
You might find that you appreciate the time you spend together more because you know how limited that time is.
What are the pros and cons of working night shift?
As with any shift, there are advantages and disadvantages to working night shift.
Whether or not the pros outweigh the cons is up to your personal needs and preferences.
These are just some of the pros and cons of working night shift.
Pros of Working Night Shift:
1. Better pay.
Those working the day shift have to work pretty significant overtime hours at times just to reach pay that’s equivalent to a night shift nurse.
We covered this in more detail (using real numbers) in our deep dive on nursing shift differentials, but just to give you an idea.
A while back one of the nurses I talked to said that his shift differential just for working on night shift was covering his $500 truck payment.
2. Less people in the way.
As much as you may love your boss, most of them work the day shift.
That means you’ll only have to deal with your fellow nurses and maybe an immediate supervisor during your shift, giving you a bit more freedom to let loose and actually enjoy your shift without management hovering over you.
3. You can take care of your patients in peace.
While your patients may enjoy when their family visits them, nurses know that extra people in the room can make tasks much more difficult.
Since no visitors are allowed at night, you can perform basic tasks like checking vitals without any interruptions.
Keep in mind that different hospitals will have different policies on this.
4. There are fewer distractions.
It might seem like I’ve already mentioned this above, but I wanted to emphasize it.
When I worked night shift I didn’t particularly like it, but one of the things that I did like was that there were fewer distractions when it came to me doing my job.
- Less administration.
- Less visitors.
- Fewer patient procedures going on.
- No rounding by the treatment team.
- No joint commission.
It was nice because I could just focus on providing excellent patient care without all the extra things.
Night shift nurses are able to socialize a bit more with their fellow nursing staff, leading to closer knit relationships.
There’s a feeling of “we’re in this together” that night shift nurses experience.
The frequent potlucks in the break room help the shift go by a little quicker, too!
I don’t know if it’s just because things at times could be slower, or that there’s less management or visitors around, but pay attention to this.
From my experience, the night shift crew just seem like they’re having more “fun.”
6. Easier parking.
If you work in a hospital, you know how hazardous the parking situation can get.
Night shift means fewer employees and visitors at the hospital, leaving ample parking for you.
Some facilities even have different parking rules for the night crew than the dayshift crew.
For example, some of the places I’ve worked at dayshift staff had to park in the employee parking lot which is far away from the facility while night shift crew can park in the patient park spots which is right next to the facility.
Cons of Working Night Shift:
1. Difficult to sleep.
Adjusting to a new sleep pattern that completely goes against what your body is taught can take time.
It may take a month or more to establish a good sleep pattern.
Keep in mind that some people will struggle more with night shift than others.
I worked nights for about a year and it was a struggle from start to finish.
2. Increased chance of health problems.
With lack of sleep comes a higher risk of illnesses associated with sleep deprivation.
In addition, those working the night shift are more likely to be obese and suffer from health conditions like diabetes (source).
You can try to reduce the risk with proper sleep, diet, and exercise (which is inherently hard to do working nights).
3. Lack of social life.
Since most of your friends and family work during the day, it may be difficult to schedule time to see each other.
That being said, the time you do have together will be more valuable.
This one’s a tough one, and if you’re a parent or in a committed relationship it gets really tricky.
4. Trouble changing shifts.
If you don’t work nights consistently, it may be very difficult to change from day to night shifts intermittently.
If you start on the night shift, it’s best to stay on it so your body is able to stay on a consistent pattern.
I worked in stretches and then I would be off for a couple of days. I tried switching back to a regular sleep pattern and it was hard.
I would lose a day trying to change back to a regular schedule, and then lose another day trying to change back.
5. Constantly feeling like you’re playing catch up.
Day shift nurses have the advantage of speaking with the doctors in person, so they’re always up to speed on a patient’s status.
Night shift nurses may only have chart notes and minimal contact with doctors to determine a patient’s status and what needs to be done during a shift.
How can you get your body adjusted to sleeping during the day?
Our bodies aren’t programmed to sleep when the sun is out.
Light greatly affects one’s ability to sleep, which is why a majority of us sleep when it’s dark out.
As a side note if you’re looking for a quick rundown on how light affects our sleep or circadian rhythm here’s a quick video on it.
Here’s a longer video on the matter on a TED Talk by Sarah Morgan. It’s slightly related and slightly unrelated, but still kinda interesting.
Night shift nurses don’t have the option of sleeping at night, but there are ways to trick your body into thinking it’s nighttime during the day.
Try these tips to get your body adjusted to this atypical sleep pattern (source):
- Stop drinking caffeine at least an hour before bedtime.
- Wear sunglasses on your drive home from work to get your body in sleep mode.
- Make your room dark with room darkening curtains and eliminate any distractions, including devices like your cell phone.
- Exercise regularly, but don’t work out prior to bed.
- Keep your schedule as consistent as possible, i.e. don’t constantly change shifts from day to night.
- Make up for lost sleep by taking a short nap prior to the start of your shift, or a quick 10-20 minute power nap while on break at work, if allowed.
- Consult with your physician or a sleep specialist if you’re still having trouble sleeping after trying these tips.
What are some quick tips on handling night shift?
In addition to the recommended sleeping tips above, there are many other things you can do to make the night shift easier.
1. Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
Practice a diet consisting of smaller meals packed with protein on the days you work.
Heavy meals can make you feel bloated, making it more difficult to fall asleep.
Related Article: 10 Healthy Snacks for Nurses
2. Stay hydrated with plenty of water and non-sugary beverages.
Dehydration can make you more tired so always have a water bottle full of a healthy drink handy during your shift.
3. Minimize your caffeine intake.
Too much caffeine can make falling asleep harder and can also cause heart problems, so limit your caffeine intake to under 400 mg.
4. Stay up-to-date with your prescriptions, lab work, and doctor visits.
Finding and addressing problems, like sleep deprivation or diabetes, early on can yield better end results.
5. Give your body time.
Everyone is different and what works for one person may not work for another.
As a general rule, it takes a body at least a month to adjust to a new sleep pattern.
6. Find a schedule and stick to it.
If you start working nights, stay on nights.
Switching back and forth between night and day shifts can do more harm than good.
7. Talk to your loved ones about your schedule.
Working night shift affects more than just you, especially if you live with other people.
Make sure you’re all on the same page so they respect your need for sleep during the day.
Also set aside time for being together where work does not interrupt at all.
8. Think positive.
A positive mindset is key when working night shift, especially at the beginning when your body is adjusting.
Remembering the positives you’re gaining from working night shift can help with this.
Related Article: For more tips see 15 Tips for Surviving Night Shift Nursing.
While night shift can be difficult, it is also very rewarding.
If you take proper care of your body and maintain communication with your loved ones, you might find that you actually prefer working night shift over the day shift.
There are certainly many pros and there is always a need for good night shift nurses.
Frequently Asked Questions
How bad is working night shift?
Working nights is not bad for many people. Ultimately, it depends on the person and the routine they develop to help them manage working the 3rd shift.
Why is night shift so bad?
Night shift is bad because it can have detrimental effects on a persons physical and mental health.
Do you gain weight working night shift?
Yes, studies have shown that weight gain is possible when a person switches from day shift to night shift (source).