You can thrive on the night shift
As a night-shift nurse for more than 33 years, I’ve learned quite a few things. From creating healthy sleep habits to balancing family life, there are certain strategies I’ve developed that make working the night shift something I enjoy.
Homegrown tricks for sleeping
Sleep is essential for everyone, but those working the night shift need a little extra help, since the sun is up and serotonin doesn’t kick in naturally in the same way during the day. Something I’ve found that works is to go home, turn on my electric blanket so my sheets are toasty, take a warm bath, sip something warm like hot tea or soup, and when I feel drowsy, climb into a warm bed. I set an alarm clock and go right to sleep.
Working nights can be stressful, but I do what anyone else would do to unwind. I spend time golfing and shopping, and I enjoy a glass of wine and conversation with my family. Most days, I work 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., sleep until 3 p.m., then get up and go about my day until it’s time to get ready for work.
Five big perks
I’ve discovered a number of benefits to working the night shift.
1. Grocery shopping: There are no checkout lines between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.
2. Knowing I’m special: It’s great to be curled up in bed during the day while I know the rest of the world is hard at work.
3. Increased patient care: There’s more time to focus care on the patient’s needs instead of the needs of extended family members, who are often at home sleeping during the night shift.
4. Team cooperation: There are fewer people working the night shift than during the day, so we work more closely with each other. Here at the premier cardiac hospital in central Washington, we’re able to triage patients with chest pain, take vitals, insert an IV line, draw blood and get the results of their EKG back in less than 10 minutes.
5. I’m a night person: I used to live in Las Vegas, where there was no difference between night and day, and I could do anything at night that most people want to do during the day.
Avoiding the hangover feeling
For nurses who are new to the night shift, the secret to avoiding that hangover feeling is to stay on the night schedule. What’s most critical is having your family’s support. If you have teenagers who come home after school with their friends and noisily make cheese sandwiches and turn up the tunes, it will be nearly impossible for you to sleep. So if you’re thinking about taking the night shift, just make sure to get your family onboard first.
Most of my social circle works the night shift. On our days off, we get together like anyone else for movies and popcorn—we simply do it at night instead of during the day. I even go to mass on Saturday night so I don’t have to be up Sunday morning. My best friend takes care of puppies at the Humane Society, and when they are very young, they need feeding throughout the night. Many businesses that are open to the public during the day still have employees who work at night. So it’s not hard to find a full circle of wonderful friends who share a love for working after dark.
Tricia Hunter, RN, works at
Yakima Regional Medical and Cardiac Center, a premier cardiac hospital in central Washington. She has worked as a night-shift nurse for more than 33 years. Her husband, now retired, was also a night-shift nurse. Together with their fat Chihuahua, Homer, they enjoy the night-shift life together.
By Tricia Hunter, RN