If you haven't done it before, the thought of working the night shift can be a bit daunting. But for nurses who don't have a typical 9-5 option, it's important to understand what life would look like if you make the switch.
Here are some common benefits of working the night shift as a nurse, as well as disadvantages so you can find the working hours that work best for you.
- Benefits of night shift nursing
- Disadvantages of working night shift
- Tips for working as a night shift nurse
The Pros and Cons of Night Shift Nursing
Benefits of night shift nursing
If you're a night owl, working nights might be the perfect fit for you! These are some reasons to choose later work shifts, whether you fall under new nurses or seasoned nurses.
Fewer changes to patient care at night
Patient care plans at night typically undergo fewer changes, fostering a sense of stability for both patients and healthcare teams. While adjustments may be made based on the patient's condition, nighttime care tends to be more consistent and predictable.
It might be easier to be productive during night shifts
Many nurses prefer working the night shift, and there may be good reasons for it. Night shift nurses often find themselves more productive, with fewer interruptions and distractions. They can respond quickly and effectively to emergencies and carry out their regular healthcare duties.
In contrast, day shift nurses experience a fast-paced environment that tends to slow down by the evening shift. So, if you've ever wondered why nurses choose the night shift, increased productivity could be one explanation.
Close friendships with other night shift nurses
Working the night shift can be tough, but camaraderie with other nurses helps make the long hours go by quicker. It's nice to have colleagues who can relate to the challenges of working through the night. Sharing stories and experiences with co-workers who work the same shift can also help keep you motivated and help build relationships with your team. That sense of unity and support can be invaluable when facing the ups and downs of night-shift nursing.
Whether it's swapping tips for staying alert or just having a laugh together during a slow period, having night shift coworkers can make all the difference.
You might make more money night shift nursing
When working more unconventional hours, nurses tend to have the potential to earn more money. How? By taking advantage of shift differential pay, a financial incentive that compensates you for working non-traditional hours.
Many night shift nurses can expect to go home with more money in their pocket than day shift nurses do. The shift differential between day shift vs night shift nurses will depend on the facility, specialty, and location, so make sure you ask instead of assume when launching your late-night nursing career.
Less interaction overall
If you're someone who likes a more peaceful work environment, you might want to consider becoming a night shift nurse. The night shift tends to have less overall interaction, which can be a big plus for introverts.
As a night shift nurse, you'll have the opportunity to hone your critical thinking skills and work on your own without as much outside stimulation. There are still patients to care for and colleagues to collaborate with, but the pace is generally quieter and more relaxed.
Less traffic, shorter commute, and easier parking
Working as a night shift nurse can be challenging, but finding a parking spot at your workplace shouldn't be. Luckily, with less traffic during the late hours, you'll have a much easier time finding a place to park than most nurses on day shifts.
Some hospitals even have different rules regarding employee parking for the day shift vs night shift — you might be able to get a spot in the visitor lot. And with less traffic on the roads overall, your commute should be smoother sailing, too.
No elective procedures
Attending physicians typically perform elective procedures during the day and they aren't often scheduled after hours. Although you'll still have the option of observing doctors or checking out these procedures in the wee hours of the morning, there will be far fewer procedures.
This difference between day shift vs night shift can be one of the significant advantages for night shift nursing professionals because it means more time for other important work.
It can be easier to schedule personal appointments
As a nurse who tends to work atypical hours, finding time for personal appointments and errands can be a real challenge. However, this is one area where many nurses who have worked the night shift have an advantage over day shift nurses.
Whether you need to check in with the dentist or finally make it to that eye exam, having extra time during the day is a total game-changer when you need it, instead of being on the clock.
Some studies have suggested that night shift workers may experience less burnout and stress compared to nurses working the day shift. This could be due to the quieter, less chaotic environment that often accompanies working overnight.
Of course, the other reasons for burnout can and will still apply to night shift nurses, so it isn't a foolproof solution.
Fewer patient visitors
While it's always nice for patients to have visitors, family members and friends can distract you from providing the best possible care to your patients. Working overnight means there are typically fewer visitors, allowing you to focus solely on your patients' needs.
Plus, with a quieter environment during the night shift, you might find it easier to develop a closer bond with your patients compared to the hustle and bustle of day shift nursing.
Disadvantages of working night shift
Working the night shift can have some downsides, too. Many cons of night shift nursing have to do with managing time, sleep, and personal life. This is what Fusion Medical Staffing travelers had to share as cons to night shift nursing.
Managing time with family and friends
It's not uncommon for nurses to feel like they're missing out on valuable quality time with family and friends or too tired to enjoy their social life. Whether you're trying to attend a child's soccer game or squeeze in a dinner date, it can be hard to balance work hours with your personal obligations.
Consider setting a schedule for social events or arranging for a regular phone call with loved ones before or after your shift. Continuing to maintain a healthy lifestyle includes your social life, and sometimes it's necessary to put it on your calendar.
Tiredness and fatigue
Fatigue is a very real and challenging issue. It can be difficult to stay alert and focused during the hours your body has been conditioned to rest.
Establishing a good sleep routine outside of your work schedule, incorporating exercise into your routine, choosing a healthy diet, and staying hydrated throughout your shift can all help keep your energy levels up.
Fewer nurses work night shifts
It's not uncommon for there to be fewer night shift nurses on staff during the night than there are for the day shift. That isn't inherently a problem, but with the constant demand for nurses, it's something to keep an eye on.
Other places are closed, including restaurants
If there's a reason to go get something in the middle of the shift (or your fellow nurses are craving takeout), you might be out of luck. This may not be the issue in large urban centers, but you might need to double-check if your dinner is packed.
Nurses might want to prepare extra safety precautions
It's important to take a few extra steps to ensure your safety while you're out during the night. Make sure you're aware of your surroundings and keep your phone handy in case of emergencies. Don't hesitate to ask for a security escort (or a nearby friend) if you're feeling uneasy about walking to your car alone.
And, of course, always trust your gut instinct.
Doctors and managers might not be around that late
One of the biggest hurdles when working overnight shifts as a nurse is finding the right person to talk to if you need help or guidance. Sometimes, you might need to speak with your manager or a specific doctor, but they may not be on call.
It can be frustrating to not have someone available to talk to, but many hospitals have procedures in place for night shift situations. Your supervisor should be able to provide you with instructions on who to contact in case of an emergency or pressing issue.
Difficulty adjusting to the schedule change
Starting a new job is always an exciting experience, but it can feel like an uphill battle when you're dealing with a big schedule change like switching to the night shift. You might find it hard to sleep during the day, stay awake for your entire shift, or even stay on top of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
But don't worry! There are some things you can do to make the transition a little easier.
Tips for working as a night shift nurse
When you've learned enough about the difference between day shift vs night shift work, you might be ready to send in your application. Here are some helpful tips for night shift nurses to get you started on the right foot.
Eat healthy snacks during your shift
Healthy snacks will help give you sustained energy throughout your shift. Some nurses who have worked nights suggest packing easy snacks like:
- Sliced veggies with hummus
- Greek yogurt with granola
- A handful of nuts and dried fruit
Opting for healthier choices also helps avoid common conditions like weight gain, fatigue, and even heart disease.
Get plenty of rest before and after working night shifts
Establishing a consistent sleep schedule and creating a restful environment can make a world of difference when trying to sleep during the day. Do yourself a favor and wind down and relax before going to bed.
Giving your body the rest it needs will not only make you feel better, but it will also make you a better nurse, able to stay alert and focused during those long shifts while avoiding critical errors.
Get the best possible sleep when you're resting
Once you've cooled down and rested, it's time to focus on getting the best possible quality of sleep. One way to help make that happen? Invest in some blackout curtains to keep light out during the day. A sound machine is also essential, whether you prefer white noise or the soothing sounds of the ocean. For best results, consider a sleep mask and earplugs to block out external stimuli.
Depending on how your home is set up, you might even want to select a bedroom that gets less sunlight during the hours you'll be asleep. These little tips can go a long way in helping you get that much-needed rest.
Finding little ways to move your body throughout the night can help you feel more energized and focused. Not only will it benefit your physical health, but staying active can also have positive effects on your mental health and overall mood.
Prioritizing an active lifestyle is important on your days off, too. A brief set of jumping jacks might wake you up during your shift, but regular exercise will also help you get better sleep on a nightly basis.
Use caffeine wisely on night shifts
Sometimes, it can be quite a challenge to get quality sleep when your circadian rhythm is completely flipped. But don't worry, a little bit of caffeine can help you power through that shift. Just be careful not to overdo it, or you might find yourself crashing in the middle of the night or struggling to get a good night's rest once you finally hit the bed again.
Why not try experimenting with limiting your caffeine intake? Everyone's tolerance varies, so cutting back on one energy drink or stopping earlier in the day could make a huge difference for you.
Working the night shift does have its perks, like increased pay, a more relaxed environment, and the opportunity to build close friendships with other night shift nurses. Sure, it can be a bit of an adjustment, but with some careful planning and preparation, you might just find yourself setting your alarm for the evening and embracing the night owl life.