Day shift versus night shift as a nurse. Which is better for your health? Which shift fits your schedule? How do you decide? If you want to know which shift is better then you will need to weigh the pros and cons and also your preferences. Day shift and night shift nursing are very different and both shifts have their challenges. Many times new grad nurses think they have to work night shift but this is not always true. Some new grads have been known to grab a dayshift position with their first job. Lets not get ahead of ourselves though. Lets talk about the pros and cons so you can make the best decision for yourself.
A little background information on me. I started out as a new grad and worked nights 7pm-7am for a little under two years. After this time I started looking for a job that was dayshift because I was exhausted with the toll it was taking on my body and my schedule. I have since been working a day shift nursing position that has normal working hours and some evenings. My job does not have 12 hour shifts. Please realize that most nursing jobs that are at the bedside will require you to work 12 hour shifts. This is if you want to work at the bedside. So I have done both day and night shift along with 12 hour shifts and 8 hour shifts and both have their pros and cons. So lets delve in.
When I obtained my first nursing job I thought I had to work nights and working days was not an option. Most new nurses are oriented on days for a period of time then switch to working nights. This is done mostly because days are known to be more hectic than nights though this is not always the case. Nights also tend to offer more downtime so new nurses can learn time management. Also, it is easier to get the newbies to work night shift because it is not always the most sought after shift. My personal opinion from experience that working night shift as a new nurse on a medical surgical floor did not have much downtime and was almost always hectic. It did provide a great opportunity to develop camaraderie, develop my skills and learn time management.
So, lets start by talking about dayshift. If you work in a hospital setting then dayshift hours normally are 7am-7pm. This is great because you do not need to adjust your normal sleeping habits and you can have a normal routine. When you are finished working your three twelve hour shifts you do not need to adjust on your days off. You will have time to attend appointments and family events on your days off. Working on dayshift means there is support staff around. Doctors will be rounding and you can listen to the plan of care and get updates straight from the physicians. Physical therapy can help assist the patients with getting out of bed and walking the halls. There are usually more aids available to help assist patients with basic care and getting the patients cleaned up. More staff available also means more opportunities for learning. No matter what shift you work you will need to work as a team. Working days allows for a larger team because there is more staff available. This is a great way to get to know the different staff support and other professions that work to provide patient care. Another important part of working days is the food! The cafeteria is open during the day so you have more options on what to eat. Also if management brings food in for staff it usually happens during the day. Unfortunately, night shift can get stuck with the left overs unless they are nice enough to provide something for the shift. Speaking of management on the pros of days is that management is around. Now this can be a con as well but on the pro side they are there if you have any questions or need their support.
Now that we covered the pros of day shifts lets talk about the cons. Day shift tends to be more hectic because patients are getting all their care provided. This means that you will not have as much time to spend with them and provide your own care. But you will have the support staff available. Day shift is when physicians are rounding, therapy is being provided, testing is being performed. This creates more chaos and activity. You may have two patients down getting x-rays and another being prepped for surgery. You will need to know where your patients are and what they are getting done and get your care provided while all this is occurring. Another hit is the pay. Day shift makes less money because they do not make the shift differential that night shift makes. Pay is less because nights is considered a disruption to what is a normal daily schedule. It is normal to function during the day and at night is when we are suppose to sleep and rest. Night shift is paid more for this inconvenience. The last con is dealing with the patients families. Now this can go both ways. During the day is when family members visit. You can be pulled in many directions when it comes to families. They are going to want to know the plan of care, ask you a ton of questions, make requests. Granted these are all reasonable, but as a new nurse it can be overwhelming.
Okay, lets talk about night shift. Night shift hours are normally 7pm-7am. If you are a new grad nurse working in a hospital they are most likely going to require you to work this shift. If this is not what you want then make that known from the start and try to negotiate a day shift position. Trust me it can be done! The first pro of working night shift is the pay. You will make more money working nights because night is considered an inconvenience and your schedule may be difficult to adjust to because it is not natural. Nights are also considered to be slower paced but this honestly is not always the case. It depends on your patients and their level of care. Many times family is not present or they are getting ready to leave so this allows you more time to work and less time worrying about family being present and asking questions. You will develop more autonomy working nights because there is less support staff present. You will learn how to assess your patients and what actions you need to take to provide quality care because you will not have access to as much help. This also creates better comradery with other nurses on your units. Many times night shift has many new grad nurses and a few seasoned nurses. At night you develop a bond with your co workers by helping each other out and supporting one another. I remember when I worked nights we would bounce ideas off one another, help each other with patient care and ask each other a ton of questions. You truly create a tight knit bond that you never thought possible. I cherish those moments I had as a new grad nurse. Some other pros are an easier commute because you are commuting when rush hour is over. You also will have your days free to complete personal tasks.
So now some cons of night shift. Remember I said you will have your days free to complete personal tasks. Well that can happen sometimes but most of the time you will be sleeping. One of the hardest things about working nights is the exhaustion and fatigue. Days off can end up being spent in bed trying to rest and catch up on sleep and you always just feel drained. This also comes with some health concerns. Working night shift interferes with your natural sleep rhythm. This puts you at an increased risk of breast cancer, heart attack, depression, obesity and diabetes. This is just something to consider because some people thrive on nights. You will need to learn how to adjust your sleep schedule and what works for you. Some people keep their sleep schedule the same when they are off while others flip their schedule. Working nights can also cause a strain on relationships especially if your significant other works an opposite schedule. Another con is the lack of support staff. You no longer have physical therapy to help get your patient up and out of bed. You may even have less aids on the floor. You also might start to feel invisible because many times people do now know who are you and you are unfamiliar with staff that are usually rounding during the day. Many times at night information comes second hand. The day shift nurse will tell you what the doctor said or what they want. But what happens when you look in the chart and do not see that documentation anywhere? Now you have to call the person at 1am and make sure the information is correct because this is the only time you had available to make the call.
So now that you have some pros and cons of both shifts you can hopefully weigh your options and decide what is best for you. You might want to try both and see what works better for you! There is no wrong answer. Some people thrive on nights and love the extra money and that is great! Others can not handle the toll it takes on their mental and physical health and need to stick to days. Either way nursing is a 24 hour job and nurses are needed on both shifts. Make the best choice for you and be open to other options.