Working as a Night Shift Nurse: What You Need to Know

by Emma Rowlings

Night Shift Nurse

Working night shifts can be incredibly convenient for many nurses. It can allow for other daytime commitments to be met, such as picking up children from school or nursery, or may work in sync with a partner’s profession. On the other hand, it can also be challenging, tiring and throw you off sync from time to time.

Within healthcare, many facilities such as emergency units and in-patient wards are open 24 hours a day, requiring night shift nurses.

In America, 3.2% of the population solely work night shifts, and while it can be difficult to initially adapt to a nocturnal lifestyle, it's critical that hospitals provide adequate staffing at all times to ensure patients are receiving optimal care. The average hospital stay in the USA is 4.5 days, and many of these patients may require medication, support or procedures performed at any time during the daytime, evening or early morning hours.

It is commonplace for nurses to work a shift rota in order to cover staffing needs throughout the day and night. When applying and interviewing for a night shift nurse position, it is critical that you demonstrate your willingness to adapt to this changing schedule and work to the best of your ability regardless of the time.

Understand the Positives and Negatives of Night Shift Work

You might be applying for a night shift nurse position because it fits well around your family schedule, or it could be because you love the hustle and bustle of busy night shifts - after all, the majority of emergency admissions occur after 6pm. Whatever your reason is, it's good to weigh the pros and cons and address these in an interview.

On the up side, you get to see the healthcare setting in an entirely new way, and can fit work around your existing commitments. If you are new to the profession, it can provide essential work experiences that may not be as available during day shifts.

On the down side, your body can suffer from the changing routine (which induces a sort of ‘jet-lagged’ feeling) and it can interfere with your social life. A recognition of these issues shows that you've thoughtfully considered the role before applying, which in turn can reassure your potential employer that you're reliable and serious.

Make a Plan

Prior to commencing your night shift job, make sure that you have organized the fine details of how you will manage your schedule. This will help to prevent you burning out.

The primary goal is to plan when you're going to get 7 or more hours sleep. A recent study has shown that receiving less than 7 hours proper sleep significantly reduces your ability to perform within a healthcare role, with stamina, focus and cognition negatively affected. An employer will need to know that whether it's 6pm or 4am, you will perform to a high standard to maintain excellent patient care. By planning with your family the times you'll get to achieve undisturbed sleep, and organizing efficient childcare, you can remain on top form during your working hours without fatigue getting in the way of your performance.


It could be that when applying for a job in healthcare you might be asked to complete several ‘sleep-in’ shifts. This is especially common in lower support care facilities, such as rehabilitation centers or care homes for the elderly. There's always a possibility during any sleep-in shift that you will not actually get to go to sleep. If, for example, there happens to be an emergency during the night, or if a patient requires additional support at 3am, it'll be your responsibility to be awake and alert to provide the best care possible. This is why it is also important to plan additional rest time before or following a sleep-in, as well as showing your prospective employer that you know the reality of sleep-in shifts.

Maintaining Good Health

There's no denying the facts; night shift workers are far more likely to become seriously unwell than people who work the regular 9-5.

The National Sleep Foundation has linked night shift work to an increase in cancers, mental health problems, ulcers, poor appetite and heart disease.

When applying and interviewing for a night shift nurse position, it's important for both your own well-being and the well-being of your patients that you are fit and healthy.

Meeting with your family doctor for a physical prior to commencing your job and keeping an eye on your health over the period of your employment will help you stay in control of your physical and mental health.

Night shifts tend to be part of the deal when entering a healthcare profession. While they can be incredibly convenient and even exciting for some, they are burdening and fatiguing for others. It's important that you pay careful attention as to whether you have the right tools in place to maintain good health and optimal focus while working unsociable hours. This is not only imperative for your own well-being, but for the well-being of your patients.

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