May 31, 2006, 9:29 pm

Because the Night Belongs to Us


Whoa! Check this out!

“The Mark of the Beast” Cold Medication!

For when you have a “devil” of a cold!

For when you would sell your soul just to breathe normally!

For those days when you think hell will freeze over before you get well again.

Guaranteed to take care of all your cold symptoms for as long as you live!

All you need to do is pay with your soul!

Instead of an antihistamine you get an antichrist-amine!

I wonder if you drink it if you will be “Left Behind”?

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

(I actually love that series, Jerry Jenkins is, ahem, one hell of a writer!)


It’s no secret that I’m a night person.

I’ve said before it is easier to stay up until 0700 than to get up at 0700!

And I prefer the night shift for many reasons, not the least of which is that there are less people around and you can spend more time with your patients.

And….I have no young children and can sleep when and how long I want. Usually.

The males of the household have learned, sometimes painfully, that to wake me up results in a voice that makes Luciano Pavarotti sound like Barry White.

But if I had to give advice to someone who was just starting the night shift (and that may be a few new grads out there), I can only tell you what works for me and I’ve learned this over the years through trial and error.

  • Put All Your Piggies In A Row
    • Try to get your shifts scheduled sequentially.
    • Under no circumstances allow yourself to be scheduled “one-on-and-one-off”. Unless you live the hours of a night nurse whether you are working or not, this will do you in!. It’s easier for me because I tend to be a human “Bat” (except I don’t hang upside down in a closet.)
    • Always have at least two days off in a row before returning to the night shift. This is not easy if you are working full time, eight-hour shifts. So….
      • I suggest that if you are given the opportunity, work only 4 days a week or less.
      • The differential of the night shift should make up for the missing day.
      • It is possible to work one-week-on/one-week off and I have done that before. I remember liking it. I don’t think I had gray hair then. Not that I have it now mind you.
    • If you have the chance to work three 12-hour night shifts per week, try to avoid working them all in a row.
      • It will take you two days to recover, at least.
      • You will feel (and look) like death warmed over by the end of the third shift.
  • Don’t Give Your Piggies Roast Beef
    • I’m not sure what it is about nocturnal consumption, but I found that eating during the night caused bloating and discomfort.
      • A snack is okay, a few crackers with some milk or half a sandwhich.
      • Also, eating at night is a sure way to gain weight, especially if it is not a busy unit/night and you’re eating to stay awake or out of boredom.
    • Watch the coffee intake
      • If you’re like me, you’ll pour five cups and actually have time to drink about half a cup.
      • If you are sleeping in the morning, watch the caffeine after about 0400.
      • If you are an afternoon sleeper, it shouldn’t affect you.
      • And remember, coffee is acidic so can contribute if you have that bloating/discomfort discussed above.
  • Back at the Ranch
    • Make your environment sleep friendly
      • Get your room as dark as possible or sleep in the darkest possible area
      • Consider using a fan or another type of machine as “white noise”. This will drown out neighborhood noise, barking dogs, cars,etc.
    • If you can’t sleep
      • Get up. Laying there trying to sleep is only going to make it worse.
      • Take a hot bath, read.
      • Be careful about using antihistamines to sleep, they can cause a “hangover” type feeling and you will be groggy while awake. I, personally use melatonin but please do not constitute that as advice.
      • If you sleep for a few hours only and then are wide awake, try to take a nap before going to work.
    • Stay hydrated
      • Dehydration can cause headaches. I left the night shift once after suffering from prolonged low-grade headaches that would last 5-6 days. It was because I drank nothing but coffee and Diet Pepsi. It had nothing to do with the shift.
  • So why put yourself through working the night shift?
    • Minimal management presence – not that management is bad, it just means less distractions from taking care of patients.
    • Group cohesiveness – night shift workers tend to take care of each other and there is much less back-biting.
    • Usually a less number of patients, giving you more of a chance to do more for them and get to know them better, at least in the ER.
    • A shift differential – where I work, it is rather substantial, thanks to the work of the California Nurses Association over the years.
    • You can be home for your family when they are awake.

So night shift is a doable, often desirable shift to work. It’s the best shift for me.

But that old saying that a nurse needs to take care of herself first is truer in this situation than any other.

If you are meant to be a night nurse, you will know it!


  • Julie

    June 1, 2006 at 12:23 am

    I can identify with much of your advice from when I worked nights, though this was as part of what was known as internal rotation. A week of nights and 3 of days, which we had changed to 2 concecutive weeks of nights (4 on 3 off or 8 on 6 off) and then 6 weeks of days. I never had problems sleeping, or staying awake at night, though it was a busy CCU that I was working in at the time.

    By the way, we are having a 666 thing next week – 6th June 2006!

  • TC

    June 1, 2006 at 1:47 am

    All good advice! I used to work 5-8hour night shifts and it was aweful. Plus I had a small child at the time and I felt like I never slept. I lived on coffee, ibuprofen and maalox, fortunately, I take better care of myself these days. My pet peeve, as someone who has driven home from work dangerously tired, is that we should be allowed to nap on our breaks. Every institution I’ve ever worked in makes this a cause for firing!! Even though many night shift teams do their own thing and rotate people going to lay down while others watch their patients. I knew one nurse who drove off the road into a ditch after she fell asleep driving home. She was okay, but let us nap!

    BTW Kim, antiChristamine? groan.

  • John Cowart

    June 1, 2006 at 3:57 am

    The Monticello Drug Company here in Jacksonville, Fla., distributed 666 for years. Back in the 1920s and 30s, my grandmother and my aunt both worked for this company which stood right at the foot of what was then Jacksonville’s only bridge. At the start of WWII, a car jumped the rail of the bridge and landed on the roof of the building; it hit a soldier who was standing guard there — Jacksonville’s first war casualty!

  • Chele

    June 1, 2006 at 4:48 am

    Great advice! I work night shift and I LOVE IT! I started out on days and as a new grad considered myself lucky to have landed a straight day shift job when all my friends were taking jobs that were day/night rotations. I did that for 5 years and looking back, I don’t know how I did it. Now having worked night shift for 5 – 6 years, I can’t imagine working anything but. I’ve always had a night shift personality…MUCH easier to stay up til 0700 than to get up at 0700. Still working on hubby and kids though…they still think nothing of waking me up just to “ask me a question”.

  • Hannah

    June 1, 2006 at 6:26 am

    I’m sure I’ll come back and read this after I graduate.

    What an icky ad! I like Jerry’s books, too…ever read his Margo series? (NOW I’m dating myself.)

  • Jenn

    June 1, 2006 at 6:53 am

    I loved night shift. And especially the differential. I did contracted agency work on the same floor at the same hosptial for two years only working two 12 hour shifts a week and still made more than the staff (sorry staffers).

    I second making your room as dark as possible. The more cave like the better. And if you are doing long term night shift I found it much easier to keep that schedule on my days off. When I went back to trying to sleep at night on my nights off is when I started having problems.

  • mary

    June 1, 2006 at 4:19 pm

    Well, sometimes life is full of wierd, um…coincidences. Like: I worked night shift in the 70s and 80s for several years in—Jacksonville, Florida. Home of 666! 666 was a very popular product for our older patients. (Woman in respiratory distress: “Oh honey, y’all don’t need to bother that doctor! Just get me some 666, I’ll be just fine directly!”). I recall a big sign going over one of the bridges with a huge “666” on it, too.

    There is a very amusing story about 666 that’s been on the internet for years, here it is:
    –it explains how the name came about and etc. The product is still sold, you can get it at Walgreens, for instance.

    It took me a while to get converted, but once I started working straight nights I preferred it. Not only less management (sorry, nursing managers) but less attendings, too (sorry, docs). But…less RNs made things sometimes scary. I was glad to move to ICU and off the floor. And just so new nurses have some history: we also had a severe nursing shortage at that time. They were offering Baylor shifts (work two 12-hour shifts each weekend, get paid for 36 hours). In fact, it got so desperate on nights that they offered two 12-hour nights for 40 hours pay (with differential!). Ah, the good old days.


  • pam

    June 2, 2006 at 8:52 pm

    Kim, THANK YOU SO MUCH for this! I am so printing it out and posting it on my wall. The night shift RN’s bible! I start my job in about a month, first orientation on days, and then…the night shift! I have this weird feeling that I’ll really like it, and want to stay on nights. I guess we’ll see!

    Thanks again. Your insight & experience are always such a help for us newbies!

  • Rose

    June 3, 2006 at 3:49 pm

    Your advice is spot-on…I’ve been doing 12-hr night shifts for a year and a half now, and I love it. I’m going to stay on nights as long as I possibly can. And my night shift crew on my unit are fantastic…nothing like spending night after night together and laughing hysterically at 3am to bond together a group of people.

    BUT…I also cannot stand napping on night shift. If it’s not appropriate for day shift, why should it be appropriate for nights? I just vented about it here…

  • Inge A. Hanssen

    June 6, 2006 at 2:24 pm

    Now it is only a half hour left and the date 6.6.6. is over here (Norway). Nothing happened..

  • Klig

    June 6, 2006 at 7:47 pm

    I’m a paramedic – we work 2 days (0700-1700), 2 nights(1700-0700), 4 off where I am. I’ve found that the best strategy for me is to stay up late after my 2nd day, sleep in as long as possible, get up noonish before the first night, have a quiet afternoon, then go to work. I’m usually pretty perky until midnight, and after an hour or so of tiredness I can push through for the second half of the shift.

About Me

My name is Kim, and I'm a nurse in the San Francisco Bay area. I've been a nurse for 33 years; I graduated in 1978 with my ADN. My experience is predominately Emergency and Critical Care, and I have also worked in Psychiatry and Pediatrics. I made the decision to be a nurse back in 1966 at the age of nine...

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