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Day Shift vs. Night Shift Nursing: Pros and Cons

Written by: University of Tulsa   •  Jan 22, 2024
A nurse wearing scrubs in a hospital room making notes on a tablet.

Day Shift vs. Night Shift Nursing: Pros and Cons

Patients in a hospital setting require care 24/7. To ensure a consistent continuum of care, nurses must be available, working both day shifts and night shifts to meet patient needs and promptly respond to emergencies that may arise.

While a comparison of day shift vs. night shift nursing yields many similarities, some significant distinctions also exist. These distinctions involve more than just time of day; day shift and night shift nurses also have different sets of responsibilities. By obtaining a well-rounded education, nurses can hone the skills required for success in doing both types of shift work.

Day Shift vs. Night Shift Nursing: What Are the Differences? 

Nurses preparing for shift work should know some of the key distinctions between working during the day and working at night. Three of the most noteworthy differences are the actual hours worked, the availability of physicians, and the requirements for assisting with tests and procedures.

Hours

While hospitals delineate their shifts differently, the day shift commonly starts around 7:00 a.m. At some hospitals, it may be as early as 5:30 a.m. The day shift usually runs into the early evening hours, maybe 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. On the other hand, night shifts usually begin in the early evening and can last until around 7:00 a.m.

Doctor Availability

Most doctors work primarily during the day; therefore, there tends to be more activity in the hospital and more opportunities for nurses to support their colleagues. At night, the number of doctors in the hospital tends to be much lower.

Procedures and Tests

Because more doctors work the day shift, nurses often have more opportunities to assist with diagnostic tests and procedures. By contrast, the night shift is usually lighter on activity and usually more focused on maintaining basic patient needs, monitoring conditions, and intervening only when necessary.

Day Shift vs. Night Shift Nursing: Benefits and Drawbacks 

Given these distinctions, it’s understandable that each shift presents its own list of pros and cons. Consider some of the distinguishing features of the day shift and the night shift.

Benefits of the Day Shift

Working the day shift brings several advantages. These include the following: 

  • Because the day shift tends to be fast-paced and full of activity, it can often provide nurses with more to do and more significant opportunities to feel accomplished.
  • Working the day shift also allows nurses to maintain regular sleep hours, syncing their professional lives with their circadian rhythm.
  • Being able to work during normal hours also makes it easier to be present for things like children’s school events, sporting events, or other family obligations.
  • The opportunity to assist with tests and procedures can lead to greater collegiality and more chances for nurses to hone their clinical skills.
  • For those who get into nursing primarily for the opportunity to interact with patients, being present during normal waking hours is a boon.

Benefits of the Night Shift

Night shift nursing also comes with some perks. Here are a few: 

  • For nurses who desire a slower, quieter, more relaxed environment, the night shift tends to be quite a bit less frenetic.
  • The night shift can also provide nurses with the breathing room required to study charts or to ask questions of their charge nurse, making the night shift good for new nurses looking to find their footing.
  • Thanks to the slower pacing, night nursing may also afford more opportunities to bond with other nurses and personnel.
  • Many hospitals and health systems offer higher salaries for night nurses, recognizing that these hours tend to be less desirable.

How to Prepare for the Night Shift 

Nurses who opt for the night shift need to make a few mental and physical preparations. Here are a few general guidelines for nurses who work the night shift:

  • Recognize the potential health risks of working at night, and ask a supervisor if the hospital offers sleep training options to help nurses acclimate to the night shift.
  • Try to tweak sleep patterns in different ways, staying up late the evening before an overnight shift and taking a nap before heading in for your shift.
  • Get buy-in and support from friends and family members in advance, and discuss ways to stay connected with them even while working unusual hours.
  • Use lulls during the night shift to engage in reenergizing activities, such as stimulating crossword or sudoku puzzles.
  • Emphasize hydration and nutrition, rather than simply relying on caffeine to sail through the shift. Don’t forget to pack food and snacks, as the cafeteria is likely closed at night.

Day Shift vs. Night Shift Nursing: Prepare for Anything 

The truly versatile nurse is prepared to thrive in any environment, day or night. To develop this level of versatility, honing a broad portfolio of essential nursing skills, including core clinical competencies, is essential.

The right education can provide those skills, laying a foundation for success across different types of nursing shifts. Consider The University of Tulsa’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) degree. Develop the skills and credentials needed to thrive, no matter the shift, with a condensed timeline and a flexible schedule. Discover more details about the program today.

Recommended Readings

How to Become an APRN

3 Reasons to Expand Your Nursing Scope of Practice

Nurse Retention Strategies: Ways to Retain Nurse Talent

Sources:

American Nurses Association, Tips for Surviving the Night Shift in Nursing

FreshRN, “Responsibilities of Day Shift Med-Surg Nurses Versus Night Shift Med Surg Nurses”

Indeed, “Day Shift vs. Night Shift for Nurses (Plus Benefits of Each)”

Indeed, “Everything You Need to Know About Nursing Shift Work”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses

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