An estimated one-fifth of the world’s working population has a variable schedule or night hours, reports the International Journal of Clinical Medicine (IJCM). Healthcare professionals, including night shift nurses, make up a notable portion of this group. Individuals considering a role as a night shift nurse should make it a point to understand the challenges and opportunities associated with this position before accepting a job offer. Increased appreciation for the demanding nature of this job will help night shift nurses become more successful once they are hired.
Defining Night Shift Nursing
According to IJCM, “night shift” hours are defined as working hours between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. Although the length of a shift may vary by employer, most night shift hours officially last between eight and 12 hours in length. The unpredictable nature of nursing, however, sometimes requires staff members to work beyond their scheduled shift times. Night shift nurses may either work at night exclusively or in rotation with daytime shifts. These positions are often (but not always) staffed by entry-level nursing professionals. Hospitals and other healthcare facilities rely on night shift nurses to provide continuity of care.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Night Shift Nurse Jobs
The Journal of Nursing Education and Practice (JNEP) found that there were several positive benefits associated with being a night shift nurse. Two include the ability to spend time with family (including quality time with children) and the opportunity to learn additional nursing skills.
In addition, night shift nurses are often part of the 12-hour workday model. This leads to a variety of healthcare benefits. Twelve-hour workdays have been found to increase productivity, involve fewer handoffs (and thus, more consistent patient care), present opportunities for more or better pay, reduce absenteeism and staff turnover, and provide better overall morale. This last factor may be due to the three-day work week that 12-hour shift workers get in exchange for their extended workdays.
The job of a night shift nurse is not for everyone. Working at night opposes the body’s natural circadian rhythms. As a result, some night shift nurses have difficulty achieving consistent, sufficient and satisfying sleep. Even if there is substantial time to sleep during the day, the body often finds it extremely difficult to fall asleep.
According to the Emergency Nurses Association, some conditions that can arise from fatigue include:
- Diminished memory
- Slower reaction times and information processing
- Decreased concentration and judgment
- Diminished motivation
Other reported disadvantages that arise from working night shifts can include insomnia, increased risk of dangerous driving due to drowsiness and a strain on familial relationships, says JNEP.
Ultimately, for those who have the right temperament, becoming a night shift nurse can be a rewarding career.
Survival Tips for Night Shift Nurses
The difficult nature of the work means that night shift nurses must take extra care of their physical, emotional and mental health to ensure personal and professional well-being.
Getting proper and adequate sleep is of paramount importance for night shift nurses. To ensure this, the following practices are recommended by the National Sleep Foundation:
- Wear dark glasses on the drive home after a shift in order to block sunlight.
- Keep the same schedule of sleeping and waking, all seven days of the week.
- Use eye masks and ear plugs to eliminate excess noise and light.
- Avoid eating foods and drinking beverages with caffeine near bedtime.
- Avoid alcohol.
To maintain good health, it is also vital for nurses to eat properly. It is recommended that night shift nurses avoid junk food from vending machines or other sources. Planning meals, staying hydrated and bringing food from home are all ways to ensure healthy eating.
Surviving the night shift also means being aware of and tending to emotional and mental issues as they arise. Working hours that are in opposition to the majority of the world’s activity, as well as one’s natural biology, can prove difficult. For individuals to maintain optimal health, JNEP recommends:
- Planning, organizing and prioritizing personal and home activities.
- Decompressing at work, in order to avoid “bringing the work home.”
- Exercising. This means walking at every opportunity and joining a gym, if possible.
- Spending time outside.
- Arranging quality time with family and friends, and enlisting their support when necessary.
- Putting effort into being socially active.
- Taking advantage of daytime opportunities and thinking positively about the benefits of working a night shift.
A Nursing Program That Works for You
The role of a night shift nurse is challenging, but those who choose the work may well find it rewarding. Nurses can gain additional education for their career with Husson University’s Online RN-to-BSN. Offered fully online, the program allows RNs to earn their Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree on a schedule that is best for them.