Night shift vs. day shift: Sleep

Night shift Another important consideration while debating night shift versus day shift nursing is sleep. No matter when you prefer to clock in, sleep is critical to functioning at your best as a nurse. Being alert means avoiding making critical errors and being more aware when your patient’s condition is changing. “Your patients depend on you to get quality sleep just like they depend on you to give them the right medication,” says Brunson.

While it can certainly be a rough transition, some nurses are easily able to adjust to sleeping during the day. Many nurses tend to be tired enough after an 8- or 12-hour shift to fall asleep without changing things up too much. That said, any and all of the following can help night shift nurses maintain a steady sleep schedule:

  • Investing in blackout blinds
  • Sticking to a routine for falling asleep
  • Reading a book before bed
  • Wearing wax earplugs
  • Avoiding blue light before sleeping
  • Avoiding spicy foods before bed
  • Having a small “breakfast” before bed so a growling stomach doesn’t wake you up
  • Drinking only light caffeine and water during your shift
  • Reducing food intake between midnight and 6 a.m.
  • Owning a loud, reliable alarm clock

Most important, plan out your sleep, especially if you’re someone who switches back to being awake during the day on your days off or you have a rotating day/night schedule. Brunson recommends writing your sleep time down on your calendar or in your planner and not scheduling anything over it. “Your sleep needs to be protected at all costs,” says Brunson.

If that seems like it’s just way too much to deal with, it doesn’t mean you’re out of luck—there are plenty of nursing positions that don’t require working at 3 a.m. While they may be harder to find in a hospital setting, stay open-minded and consider doctor’s offices, clinics or surgical centers that are only open during the day. You’re better off tailoring your search to roles with schedules that work for you than being exhausted and out-of-sorts.

“I’m a better nurse and person getting good sleep at night and having improved mental health by being able to socialize during the day,” says Jenna Liphart Rhoads, Ph.D. RN, CNE advisor at Nurse Together.

If you’re looking for a good in-between, look for evening-only positions that consist of 8- or 12-hour shifts where most of the hours occur between 4 p.m. and midnight. This can allow you to have a more “normal schedule” without having to be there bright and early in the morning.

Night shift vs. day shift: Health considerations

Besides sleep, there are other health concerns to think about before becoming a long-term night shifter. While trying night shift for a shorter period of time won’t necessarily have a long-term effect on your health, there are some studies to consider if you plan on being on night shift for years.

In a recent National Toxicology Program report, it was concluded that there is “high confidence” that persistent night shift work that results in circadian disruption can cause cancer.1 Night shift work has also been associated with increased risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, metabolic disorders and sleep disorders.2

While those risks are hard to think about tangibly, you can take stock of how you’re doing after a few months on the night shift and consider what changes you can make if you enjoy being on night shift but may not be feeling your best.

“With years of night shift work, you can start to feel the effects on your mental and physical health,” Marchese says.

Night shift vs. day shift: Social life

If you choose to start working the night shift, you may encounter some new challenges with your social life. Some parents find it easier to be involved with their kids without having set obligations like work hours during the day. Especially if the kids have school or childcare until the afternoon, it can be easier to get your sleep after getting off work.

If you’re looking to go out, it might be easier to stay up late with friends. On the other hand, if you have social obligations with friends or family in the morning after you get off, it can be very hard to stay up after working all night. “I usually just turn into a zombie at that point,” says Sean Karbach, BSN, RN, CCRN and creator/host of the Nurse Dose podcast.

Chances are also good that you’ll meet great friends during your shift that you can see outside of work when your schedules line up. “I’ve met some of best friends on night shift,” says Karbach.


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