Nurses Are Talking About: Working the Night Shift

Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS


January 11, 2013

In This Article

How Do Nurses Feel About Working Nights?

At the end of the first article, we asked readers the following question: "How do you feel about working nights?" The final results were as follows:

• Love nights: 47%

• Hate nights: 32%

• Undecided/indifferent: 21%

"The night shift has more pros than cons for me, personally," said one nurse, "but it is still tough on the mind and body." This love-hate relationship with nights was expressed frequently. Quite a few nurses loved the work itself on nights (slower pace, lower stress, extra time to spend with patients) or the camaraderie of the night crew but acknowledged the constant fatigue and the difficult schedules. Some enjoyed the shift differential pay they received from working nights. We heard from many nurses who loved nights when they were younger, but as they aged they found the toll of working the night shift intolerable. "I really thought I would retire from night shift," said a nurse, 48, "but one night it hit me that I am mentally and physically done with night shift."

We Tried -- We Really Did

Many nurses who contributed to the discussion didn't profess to love nights but were resigned to working them, having figured out a routine that works. However, we heard from a handful of nurses who, despite having tried everything, never felt good working the night shift and transferred to days or planned to do so as soon as possible.

• "Working nights is torture. I tried so many suggestions and nothing works; it mentally and physically drains me to work nights."

• "I always felt like I had permanent jet lag, especially during the winter."

• "It has been years since I worked nights, and when I did, I claimed to love it and genuinely felt good about my choice to work nights. It was only after I switched to evenings that I realized how fatigued and exhausted I was. Everything in my life improved."

• "I worked nights for 2 years -- I was fine at work but at home I was a monster, so my family really did not benefit from the few extra bucks."

• "When I came off nights, I discovered I had not been doing as well as I thought. The best way to describe it was that, after a few weeks off nights, I felt like my world was now 'in color' again, after having been 'black and white.' I am an owl, but nights took their toll."

• "I have been working night shift for 5 years and can honestly say that I will never be able to adapt!"

• "For those of you who love working nights, thank God for you! I will be switching to day shift the very second I get the chance."

• "I worked nights for 25 years, but I admit I was chronically short of sleep."

Finding What Works

A nurse new to the night shift said, "It is helpful to read everyone's hints, but to a certain extent, I'm also figuring out what works for my body." What works might also depend on whether the nurse is working 12-hour shifts or 8-hour shifts, rotating or working straight nights, and working full- or part-time. Different family and social situations also have an enormous influence on the night nurse's sleep schedule and duration.

Still, the long-time night nurse has often experimented with many different patterns of sleeping, eating, caffeine use, and napping over the course of his or her career. Although these recommendations might not work for every night nurse, they do provide a starting point for the nurse who is just embarking on the adventure of working the night shift.

What if the nurse has tried everything but can't adapt to night shift? One nurse maintained, "Employers need to take it seriously when an employee reports that they cannot physically work nights," like the long-time night nurse who has had enough and is finally going to days, saying, "So long, night shift; you have served me well!"


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