I just got done working 6 out of 7 nights and I have decided I would not wish that upon my worse enemy. Working the night shift is an experience like no other and no one realllllly understands it until they stay up all night (sober). When I’m starting a stretch of nights I try and nap for a few hours in the afternoon before my first one. Sometimes it works, sometimes I just lay awake in my bed with my pjs on in the middle of the afternoon feeling like a weirdo.
I worked as a nursing assistant for a few years before I became a nurse so I had a taste of what an overnight felt like. However, I was per diem then so I only worked one or maybe two nights in a row. But as a nurse I can be on nights for a few weeks at a time and work up to 4 in a row. This stretch I just had was 3 on, 1 off, 3 on.
All things have their pros and cons so let’s run through those of the night shift.
- You’re tired all the time and feel like crap: The night shift is not kind to your body. Our bodies know when the right time to eat, sleep and poop is and all rules go out the window when 7p-7a rolls around. I’ve learned to just try and sleep as much as I can. Thankfully I live close to work so I’m home by 8am. I either scarf breakfast and hop into bed right away or shower and eat breakfast on my couch to decompress for a little bit which gets me in bed by 9. Usually I have to get up to pee around noon but am able to fall back asleep if I don’t fall over on my way to the bathroom (it’s happened). Then if I’m good, I get up around 330 and try to get a walk or a jog in. If I’m having a rough time, I sleep until 5 and then get up, shower and head to work again. If it’s my day off, I try to be out of bed by 130 to jump start getting on a regular schedule. I never really understood how important sleep was and how much lack of sleep effected my body until I started crushing nights. I ALWAYS feel nauseous and my legs ALWAYS feel like they are going to fall off. Not to mention, I’m always a little cranky.
- People think the night shift = hanging out: It’s pretty common for people to tell me “you’re job isn’t that hard, you only work 3 shifts a week.” First off, that’s just not true. I was 40hours so it’s rare that I only work 3 shifts a week. Also, my shifts are never only 12 hours. I leave my house an hour before my shift starts to get there early enough to get a comprehensive report on my patient. And I wait a half hour after the end of my shift to make sure the nurses picking up my patients don’t have questions or need help. This doesn’t even factor in emergencies, patient’s crying or a code brown happening when I’m trying to leave. Without fail my 12 hour shift really means a 14 hour day. People also assume patients are sleeping during the night so that the night shift is just medicating them, tucking them in, and hanging out. It is very rare that all of my patients are sleeping all night. And the truth is, if they’re really sick, I’m in their room all night checking vitals, hanging meds, doing my assessment……even if they are sleeping.
- Eating healthy is impossible: When you’re body is falling apart from no sleep, eating normally, never mind healthy, is a challenge. I always have to eat when I get home after a night shift otherwise I wake up starving and I don’t like to choose between eating and sleeping. I try to eat before I go in so I can get through the first couple of hours. I try and pack a sandwich, salad, leftovers, fruit, nuts and yogurt but those don’t always get eaten. When I’m tired at work, I’m guilty of snacking to try and stay awake.
- You have no friends: When you work all night, and sleep all day, you have no friends. It is impossible to have a social life because no one is around the hang out at 9am after work. It’s really difficult for me when working nights to keep in touch with even my mom and Gordon. Texting helps but if they are busy when I call on my way into work I just don’t talk to them for that day. Thankfully the people I work with have become really good friends who make being a work enjoyable.
- Making bank: We get differentials which means we make a few more bucks an hour when working nights, evenings or weekends. It doesn’t seem like much at first but in the end it really adds up.
- Less people around: The floor is always quieter at night. Patients aren’t going for as many procedures, PT and OT aren’t there, there are few doctors and nurses and visitors. This is really nice because it gives me more time to focus on my patient with fewer distractions.
- More quality time with patients and coworkers: With less distractions and tasks to get done overnight, I feel like I have more time to take a seat and just talk to my patient which is really important to me. I always try to be a good listener and spend all my free time at work getting to know my patients better and support them but I find that the night shift makes that easier. I also have more time to get to know my coworkers better which was really helpful as a new nurse.
- Mimosas: Post work omelets and mimosas…..nothing better.