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You can thrive on the night shift

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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.

Stress relief
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.

Staying connected
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.


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Tricia Hunter, RN

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.
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9 Responses to You can thrive on the night shift

  1. Nicole, RN

    Great advice for those, like myself, who are afraid of the night shift when you don’t work them regularly. Her suggestions sounds wonderful and she offers great ideas for those who have the lifestyle that promotes the night shift pattern. I will say that not all family dynamics work this nicely. If you are single without kids or have school age kids, the night shift may work out for you because you can sleep while the kids are at school. And if you are able to find a social network that revolves around night shift workers then hooray as well! But I feel as though when I work night shift I am opposite the rest of the the human race. She was able to refocus my frustrations by expressing that I should feel special that I can sleep all day when others are hard at work. The beauty of nursing is that there is a job, a schedule, a shift for everyone based on your preferences. This is a great example of someone who loves the sometimes unappealing shift throughout the night. I sure am glad there are people like her to work them for 33 years :)

  2. Robiely

    Hooray! Finally an article that addresses the specific needs of a night shift nurse. I too work the night shift and truly love working it! She offers great insight and wonderful suggestions for adapting to this special shift. Thank you so much for posting this. This information is so helpful! This also serves as inspiration for me. I have only worked for about 7 years in comparison to the author’s 33 years.

  3. cindy lou

    I agree. I have worked 2nd or 3rd shift all of my 30 year career.I do find it a bit tricky @ times, as still have 4 kids @ home, but they and my hubbie of 25 yrs have been very accomadating(most of the time). It’s nice to have the flexible schedule for the family too!

  4. teressa

    i love the people who work at night they are more apt to help each other and the work can be less stressful but i can’t sleep

  5. Although there are some things about night shift nursing that are definitely harder, there are also some great benefits. And thinks to this great article there are more resources to help nurses survive and thrive!

  6. janefromLA

    I am a constantly tired nurse! I do permanent nights (I guess that’s why), aside from exercise, I’ve been messing with my sleep patterns to find something that works. I’m trying the suggestions in this article:

    http://www.melanienightingale.com/sleep-patterns-and-night-duty/#sthash.qjivu9iY.dpbs

    The polyphasic sleep is impossible, but the Siesta Sleep is OK: I feel a bit brighter, and I even have adapted it to my days off.

    • ladyveteran

      The link you have here takes you to a website to buy that domain name.

  7. ladyveteran

    I LOVE to work the night shift BUT it is almost impossible to get people that don’t to understand how challenging it can be. I call to make an appointment and ask for early morning or late after noon and get, “How does 11:30 work?”. I’ve been called “lazy” for still being in bed at noon. I’ve had people get mad that I don’t attend a shower scheduled for 1300. I’ve gotten chewed out by my OWN management for not attending meetings that are only scheduled during the time I’m sleeping or on my ONE day off (when I’m trying to go to appointments). I miss all kinds of fun activities at my job because they are from “11-13″. I have virtually NO choice but to bring my lunch or I can go hungry as there isn’t anything left to eat by the time I get to work. Night shift seems to be the one shift they feel it’s ok to leave short staffed. There is a mentality that we can “easily do up to 6 patients” on nights with little to no regard of acuity. I do my best to stay on a night shift sleeping schedule or I end up exhausted! I have to take sleeping pills or I get no sleep at all. I’ve tried all the above suggestions and a few more. I’ve begged friends, family members and strangers to please not call during the day to no avail. I’m terrified that if I do turn the phone off that an emergency call will be missed. But despite all these negatives, I wouldn’t work any other shift!

    • DCRandRN

      Buy some pretty stationary. Send, everyone on that list an invitation to cal between say, 7and 10 am and 7 to 10 pm.
      Explain that you will not accept non emergency calls at any other time. When Suzy calls you at 2pm to chat, do so politely and briefly with a promise to call back soon. Go to lunch at 2am. Call Suzy while on your lunch break. Most ppl only require one or two calls from you at lunch and they get the hint. Occasionally call at 730 am on Sunday if necessary.