Nurses Are Talking About: Working the Night Shift

Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS


January 11, 2013

In This Article

Night Shift: Voices of Experience

When we posted the article Help Me Make It Through the Night (Shift), we asked nurses to share their tips, routines, successes, and failures in surviving the night shift. We hoped to compile a list of tried-and-true techniques for maintaining personal health and happiness and safe and effective functioning at work. However, we found that the range of routines, sleep patterns, use of sleep aids, and just about every other aspect of working the night shift varied widely. It seems that for most night nurses, there is no "right" way to work nights. The right way is what works for you, and what works for you might not work for everyone.

That said, we found many pearls of wisdom among the comments from Medscape's nurses. Some nurses have worked nights for decades, and through trial-and-error they have valuable advice to offer early-career nurses who find themselves working nights, either by choice or by necessity. We have organized these suggestions and selected comments into categories and hope that nurses who are still struggling with the night shift will find them useful.

Reading the comments from this group of nurses, I was continually amazed by the degree of thought, planning, and discipline required to work nights and maintain health and quality of life. Olympic athletes have nothing on night shift nurses!

"Night Shift Is the Right Shift"

One nurse offered a maxim that could be a bumper sticker for those who love their nights: "Even the worst night shift is better than a day shift."

Night nurses are rarely shy about what they like about the night shift (and dislike about the day shift). Without intending any disrespect to day shift workers, here are a few of the opinions expressed about working nights vs working days:

  • "I love the night shift! No administrators to deal with, no doctor rounds, just good-old patient care."

  • "During the night we have more decision-making power, which I love."

  • "Nighttime is perfect study time."

  • "Better pure nursing care is performed on night shift."

  • "I like the 'vibe' of nights, the nonfrantic atmosphere, the time to actually talk to patients."

  • "Night shift nurses are a more cohesive group, more helpful to each other, and generally more fun to be with."

  • "All the uptight 'type A personalities' work day shift and all the laid-back, fun, and funny people work nights."

  • "On nights, you can escape the frantic disorganization of the day."

  • "I am never affected by 'jet lag' when I feels normal to me."

This more casual ambiance seems to be the major advantage (other than shift differential) to working nights -- fewer interruptions and distractions, less supervision, and more independence. Even nurses who described significant negative effects on health or family and social life from working nights simultaneously praised the "night shift atmosphere." For many, however, a price must be paid. One nurse summed it up: "Night shift is a love/hate thing: I love the work, dislike the hours."


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