5 Stages of a Night Shift


At my hospital, nurses are required to rotate every two months between day shifts (7am-7pm) and night shift (7pm-7am), until you build up enough seniority to get a position where you're straight days (if you want straight night shift they usually let you hop on that train pretty quickly). 

I'm one of the crazies that still rotates my schedule and I just finished nine weeks of night shift. To a lot of the outside world, night shift seems like such a weird thing- like we're really awake all night? For all of you who have never had the privilege of working while the rest of the world sleeps, I thought I would walk you through the 5 shifts a night shift and give you a little better idea of what it's like. 

Stage 1- I feel good! (7pm-10pm)
Unlike waking up for a day shift (usually somewhere between 5-6am), you usually wake up for a night shift a lot earlier (between 3-4pm). This means that you have a couple hours at home to relax, work out, and eat dinner. You also catch up on the texts and/or calls you received during the day, and try to prepare yourself for the night ahead. 


I get to work around 7pm hoping for a good night ahead. My families are usually awake so I'm usually running around trying to get all my tasks done before the kids start to fall asleep. That usually takes me till 10 or 11pm when I enter the second stage of night shift. 

Stage 2- Denial, I'm not tired I just think I am (10pm-12am)
After finishing my first round of tasks, I'll sit down to chart and this is when I get my first wave of being tired. But at this point, I'm not even halfway through my shift so I just tell myself "you're not tired, you just think you are; Sarah, you slept all day you're not tired. Most high schoolers and college kids are still up right now! Please girl." I'll usually get a snack, a Sprite, or some fresh ice water to get me through my initial wave of sleepiness. 


Stage 3- Give me all the food, NOW (12am-3am)
If you've never worked a night shift, you can't know the intense cravings and the utter lack of self control that accompanies working odd hours. I can be a pretty self-controlled person, but once I'm at work on a night shift I'll eat anything and everything without a second thought. 


Oh you're offering me nachos? Great, I'll have some. Oh there's leftover chocolate from day shift? Don't mind me while I finish it all off. Oh I brought a salad and fruit for lunch? Sounds gross, I'm going to get a BLT at the cafeteria. I will eat anything and everything during a night shift and won't regret it until several hours later when I realize that yes, I did indeed eat three cupcakes. It probably doesn't help that our cafeteria lady at night serves HUGE portions of all things fried and delicious for ridiculously good prices. 


Of course, you can swing the other way in this stage. Your body can be feeling really whacked out by being awake and you'll get super nauseous and feel lousy. This has happened to me too, but not as much as the intense cravings I get for fried pickles.

Somewhere in this time frame most nurses will take their lunch break which is weird to a lot of people. I usually go in an empty conference room and eat my lunch away from the noise of the unit because at this point I'm feeling "beeped" out. A lot of times I'll lay on the floor for 10-15 minutes because my body at this point is tired of sitting up when it should be laying down. 

Stage 4- I'm going to fall asleep standing up (3am-5am)
This is where the struggle begins. I've affectionately named 3am as "the darkest hour" because that's when I get really sleepy and just want to go home. If you've never almost fallen asleep standing up, try a night shift and you will. During these couple hours it's not uncommon to look over at your coworkers and see them dozing off as they chart away. 



This time of night is also when you'll bond the most with your coworkers because you'll talk about anything and everything to keep you awake. If you're trying to do anything productive at this point, it's a lost cause because you can hardly remember your own name. 



Stage 5- Get me out of here NOW (5am-till you go home). 
This can be the longest two hours of the night  your life. It becomes a struggle to get up and go give your last minute medications, draw your final labs, and chart your final things. 15 minutes in this stage will seem to take two hours as you wait for the sun to rise and your coworkers to arrive and relieve you. 

Once you hit 7am and you're handing off your assignment to the next nurse, you'll find yourself fuzzy and only thinking about how long it's going to take you to get into your bed. 


When you're finally released, you practically run through the hospital doors, slap yourself silly (literally) to stay awake on the drive home, maybe eat breakfast, and collapse into your bed. 


And let me tell you, there is no sweeter feeling than climbing into bed after a night shift. Think of the best feeling you've ever felt- that doesn't compare to bed after a night shift (I'm not even exaggerating one bit). 

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There you have it- the five stages of working a night shift. There's a whole other side of night shift that comes when you're trying to sleep during the day but that'll be a post for another time. Some people hate night shift, some people love it, and some people (like me) are in between and can't decide how they feel about it. 

Have you ever worked night shift? Do you think you would like it? 

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