Since about October, I have been working on night shift. As being a New Graduate Nurse in a Nurse Residency Program, it was a requirement to be put on nights after orientation. Based on the experiences from seasoned RNs, night shift is more beneficial to new nurses. This is because it gives us more time during the shift to learn and focus on the task(s). In my opinion, I think all new nurses should have the option to work nights to see the difference in the shifts.
Why Night Shift?
Shift differential: One reason night shift is a plus is because of more pay. The shift differential for nights is between $3-6 on top of base pay, depending on the facility. The better pay makes a difference in your bi-weekly income. Working as a New Grad Nurse, we do not start off with the best pay so adding a few dollars makes up for it.
Less distractions and traffic: Through the night, there are less distractions and traffic in and out of the unit. Family members stay in the rooms at night, but if he or she has been there all day, they are asleep rather early. This is a plus because they have less questions, less requests from the physicians, and less concerns that needs to be addressed through the shift. The doctors are also making less orders, unless asked for or the patients need them. On call physicians, assistants, or nurse practitioners are less interactive and gets very irritated when you call to update them on the patient’s condition. So new orders are rare and sometimes does not happen until 6 AM.
More time and opportunities to learn:
Another good thing about night shift is the increase in downtime. After all tasks are complete and most medications are administered, it is not much to do. Usually, the patients will request sleep aid and ask not to be awakened. During the downtime, you are able to look up your patients thoroughly, read the notes from the previous days, add unknown information to your report sheet, and learn more on the medication you have given your patients. You can also research your patient’s disorder and understand the resemblance of it. It may be difficult to stay awake during downtime, but if you stay busy and find something to do, the shift goes by fast.
Enjoy the daytime before coming into work: As a nurse, we are obligated to work holidays and personal important days. Since you are working the night and not the day, you have time to enjoy the day’s events. On multiple occasions, I have been up for an entire day and went straight to work without a nap. It is not impossible to do, but it is not safe to do all of the time. On these days, I will usually get as much sleep that I can the day before and get coffee before heading to work.
We all have heard the horror stories of how much weight you can gain while working nights. This is not 100% true for everyone. It all depends on how you eat during the shift and what you eat. Night shift RNs love to have potlucks with food and snacks, especially donuts, cookies and cake. The best thing to do is to bring a healthy lunch and healthy snacks that you can quickly eat. I try to eat snacks at 10 PM and midnight, such as fruits, granola bars, and/or yogurt. For lunch, at 3 AM, I have a light salad or chicken wrap or even a small portion of dinner leftovers. It's better to eat small portions of food every 2- 3 hours to increase your metabolism and to keep you from eating large portions at one time. Doing this will help keep the pounds away and help regulate your food intake.
Gaining weight while working nights may be one problem, but sleeping is another. If I have the night off after working the previous night, I usually sleep the day away. While working on nights, it is not easy to go back and forth. When I work 2 or 3 days straight, the night that I am off is usually the recovery day. On the days that I have something planned, I will take a brief nap, go out, and come back home to take another nap. Taking naps during the day sometimes keep me awake until about 4 AM before getting into bed. The best thing to do is to keep your night routine as close as possible so that it will be less of a struggle to stay awake when you are working a shift.
Night shift is similar to day shift when it comes to patient care. When a pt has a goal for plan of care during the day, it will continue out through their stay. This is unless their condition changes. Also like day shift, there are scheduled medications to be administered. With working in critical care, sometimes medications are administered every two to four hours. On top of scheduled meds, there are also IV drips that are manage based on vital signs or lab values. Tasks that are also done are constant neurological checks, lab draws, dressing changes, blood transfusions, initiating TPN/PPN infusions, and continuous monitoring of cardiac arrhythmia. The list goes on and on. The nights are never the same and there is always something to do.
Overall, night shift has taught me a lot. I have worked day and night shift while being a New Grad Nurse. I have had the opportunity to shadow seasoned RNs during downtime to assist in procedures and ask questions about my patients. Everyone is always open to assist each other at night. If you are considering working night shift, go for it. It is always a good idea to see both sides of the day to understand what day and night shift nurses experience.