Day shift vs night shift…which is for you?

night shift

As someone who’s about to finish up on night shift and start back on day shift , I thought it might be fun to compare the pros and cons of each shift. Each definitely has its merits, so if you’re not sure which shift is for you…read on! I’ve worked both days and nights, and I can definitely say each shift has its advantages AND disadvantages. The difference is….well…night and day!

Time of Day

It goes without saying that the biggest difference is the time of day. Most day shifts start between 0630 and 0700 and most night shifts start 1830 to 1900-ish. So, if getting up at 5am is something you’re good at, then you won’t mind that early early blaring of the alarm clock. People that like day shift are typically “morning people” who go to bed early and feel productive right off the bat. If you’re more of a natural “night owl” or if you hate setting an alarm and being roused from sleep before dawn, then maybe you’d like night shift better. When working nights I rarely EVER sleep until my alarm goes off at 1700. I wish I could, but I just can’t. Day sleeping is tough! For me, day shift wins hands down. I am definitely a morning person and my natural bed time is around 9pm. How I manage to stay awake all night is a mystery!

Winner: Day shift (for me, anyway).

Noise Level

Day shift is loud as heck. More people, more phones ringing, somehow more vent alarms (probably just my imagination), definitely more call light bells…it definitely has a louder quality to it than night shift does. If you’re bothered by noise or find that it makes it difficult for you to concentrate, you might be a night-shift natural. Night shift can be pretty quiet (though don’t ever use the Q word when you’re at work!). Many times, the patients are sleeping and the families have gone home. The ringing phone AND the call bells are drastically reduced at night, making for a much more serene atmosphere.

Winner: Night shift

Time Management

Time management during the day shift is usually a bit more of a challenge than time management at night, mainly because the day shift is full of all kinds of things that will put a crimp in even the most carefully laid plans. Planning to ambulate your patient before lunch? Great! Oh, wait…there’s the IV Therapy nurse who’s come to place a PICC line. Got a dressing to change? Got all the supplies together? Oh, lookie there…it’s the physical therapist come to work with your patient. Is your whole morning looking stress free? How about a “quick” trip to MRI? You get the idea. Between the interdiscplinary staff, families, rounding docs, tests and new orders that are getting thrown at you, day shift definitely is not for the inflexible. However, if you thrive in chaos…you just might love it. Nights, on the other hand, are typically more predictable. Notice i said “typically.” Some units are chaotic and busy no matter the time of day…but for the most part if you like a more predictable shift, you’ll thrive on nights.

Winner: It’s a toss-up, depends on what you like.

Delving into the Chart

Along those same lines, the distractions on day shift can be enormous…every time you sit down to look through the chart, something (or someone) comes along to distract you. Working on days, it’s a luxury if I can read through the chart before 1400. On nights, you usually have time to dive in and explore the medical record (there are always exceptions, of course). One of the great things about working night shift is that if you are really detail oriented, you’ll love going through the charts, digging up important info and keeping the lines of communication clear as you pass this off to day shift (who might not get a chance to do as much investigating).

Winner: Night shift

Bedside Procedures

Bedside procedures (unless emergent) typically happen on day shift…placing central lines, bronchoscopy, endoscopy, paracentesis and whatnot. If you like this hands-on aspect of nursing, you’ll enjoy assisting the docs with this sort of thing on day shift. Not that bedside procedures don’t happen on nights…but when they do, they’re usually more emergency-related…so you’ll still get the adrenaline rush of chest tubes, intubations and other things that need to be done RIGHT NOW. But, for the wider range of procedures, days is where it’s at.

Winner: Day shift

Camaraderie

There’s something about working the lonely hours of the night that really brings a team together. The camaraderie on night shift is amazing and absolutely can’t be beat. Maybe it’s because you don’t have all the resources available on day shift, so you learn to count on your coworkers all that much more…or maybe it’s the conversations that take place at the nursing station at 0300. Whatever the reason, the friends you make on nights are friends you’ll make for life.

Don’t get me wrong…day shifters are awesome folks, too. But in the midst of all that chaos, you just don’t have as much time to connect, chat, confess…like you do on nights.

Winner: Night shift

Food

If you’re lucky enough to work at a hospital where the cafeteria is open around the clock, count yourself incredibly fortunate. I’ve never had that luxury, so if having access to a wide range of food choices is important to you, then you’re going to be happiest on day shift. However, if you like homemade goodies and a cornucopia of miscellaneous treats, then night shift is the winner. Night shifters routinely bring in snacks to share…my go-to was always yogurt covered pretzels (yummmmmm!), while my co-worker James always brought grapes. I had the great pleasure of working with a largely-based Filipino crew and was introduced to the joys of lumpia and pancit while on night shift. I definitely gained weight, but had a delicious time doing it. If you like regular pot lucks and don’t mind brown-bagging it, then go with nights. If you like convenience, you’ll like days (as far as the food goes).

Winner: Day shift for convenience, night shift for awesome potlucks

Sleeping

And last, but not least (definitely not least) is the issue of sleep. While night shift definitely has loads of advantages, if you can’t sleep during the day you are going to be one miserable nurse. Check out this post on surviving night shift…and if that doesn’t help, you might just have to concede that you’re a day-shifter at heart. Note that because your sleep schedule will be out of whack with night shift…any time you need a day off to do something, you’ll most likely have to request TWO days off on the schedule. For instance, if you want to go to a conference on Tuesday, you’d have to take Monday night off AND Tuesday night as well…so scheduling things can be a bit tough (unless you plan to go to your event on zero hours sleep the next day. Some people do it, but I certainly can’t). The sleep issue really comes into play if you live in a home with other people…especially the loud variety (translation: kids). I’m such a light sleeper that my husband can’t even be in the house when I’m day-sleeping…so it’s more than a bit disruptive to my home life. My friend Alicia, on the other hand, sleeps like the dead…she goes home from work and is able to sleep even while the vacuum is running and the kids are playing in the living room. That girl has some hard-core sleep skills! If you do, too…then night shift might be just great for you.

Winner: Day shift

So as you choose your clinical placements or hunt for that perfect job…knowing the pros and cons of each shift might just help you land where you’ll be happiest. Granted, most new nurses start on nights, but you could always get a job where nights are minimal like PACU or OR…lots of options in nursing!

What do YOU like about each of the shifts? Let us know in the comments below!

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