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Depending on who you ask night shifts can be anything from quiet and an all-round okay experience to the shift of the devil. With this in mind, asking was exactly what we decided to do. We sent out a message across our social networks to see how many of our connections worked nights and exactly what they thought of it. The results, some of which are detailed below, show just how varied opinions are on the oft-dreaded night shift!
14th February 2014
So how do you get through the night shift - and can you sympathise with the plight of our contributors?
Despite many nurses viewing an impending run of night shifts with dread, dejection or dismay, this certainly didn't come across in our responses. In fact, the number of positive comments actually outweighed the negative.
One major point noted regularly was the camaraderie among staff (and even some patients), that can be absent during the day. On night shifts, there is very much a sense of 'all being in this together', which can bring out the best in people - even at 4am! This team spirit helps lift the mood and keep workers going even when their body clocks are screaming to do anything but.
As alluded to earlier, this isn't something that is just present among the staff, but also between nurses and their patients. Many respondents noted that the hospital is less busy, noisy and chaotic during a night shift, so they are able to spend more time with each patient to build up a more worthwhile rapport.
On a practical level, shuttling them down corridors is also decidedly easier when not overrun by visitors and family members.
Sticking with the subject of hospital visitors, after-hours work was praised for the relative quietness which befalls the hospital. Without concerned or capricious relatives popping up left, right and centre, nurses are able to get on with the job at hand. In addition, this quietness is also largely un-pierced by telephone calls which only adds to the daytime hustle and bustle.
Elsewhere, our respondents hit on why it may be that newly-qualified nurses are given night shifts - and not just to allow their more experienced peers the chance to get some more sought-after day shifts. Given that the number of doctors working a night shift is decimated when compared to the daytime, this means nurses need to become more independent and start making some decisions of their own, which can only help with overall development.
Practicality came up a number of times, with the second instance being that of childcare. Some respondents noted that working nights allowed them to be at home before their young ones got up for school, then still be at home once they get back. Despite this, childcare wasn't all a bundle of positives, as some comments below will attest.
Other practical benefits included the fact that it is much easier to get a parking space at night time, for those hospitals where this is a premium. Plus, let's not forget, the extra money it's possible to take home for working antisocial hours.
Whilst the good comments certainly outnumbered bad, there were still a number of issues noted by our respondents which blight night shifts. The biggest of these, it will surprise no-one, was the lack of sleep.
For all the hours shut-eye you manage to cram into the daytime, night shifts still left our respondents feeling exhausted, sensitive or even nauseous. This was felt most prominently during the first night shift, as the time off beforehand only ends up getting nurses back into a diurnal rhythm, before then being flung back to nocturnal living. Fending this off either means spending the last night of time off trying to stay up as late as possible then sleeping in, or hoping to catch a nap before the shift starts, at a time when sleep can be rather elusive thanks to the full night of it just hours beforehand.
Childcare reared its head more than once on the issue of night shifts, though not all of it was covered by the positive comments noted above. In fact, many highlighted that - even though it works at some times of the day, like going to and coming from school - night shifts can get in the way of some key moments that parents would rather not avoid.
For example, working a night shift means that parents often end up missing the occasions when their child needs help with homework, or when a parent would be putting them to bed and reading a story to send them off. As one of our respondents so potently put it, those are times you cannot get back.
On the subject of children, though, another noted that having kids can make night work much easier. After all, when compared to the punishing sleep-wake cycle of a new parent, night shifts seem like a doddle!
Outside of familial issues, some noted the negative effect that night shifts can have on a person's social life. With most events or gatherings taking place during the evenings, most - if not all - nurses will have had to renege on plans when work has got in the way.
When looking at the work itself, the quieter nature noted above wasn't spoken of in entirely reverential terms. Whilst some praised the relative serenity which befell a hospital at night, others bemoaned the lack of doctors, which meant those who were on shift were stretched more than they would be during the daytime. Naturally, this affects nurses as well, having the scope to bring more stress into their routines.
When offering advice to those struggling with night shifts, our respondents came up with suggestions that ranged from helpful tips to grim acceptance. Some argued that you never really get used to night shifts, instead only finding ways of making their effects more tolerable. Others advocated the notion of keeping future days off in sight - maybe even scheduling in something nice to provide something to look forward to.
Thankfully, none of our respondents came back to us with any stories or anecdotes horrific enough to make a nurse seriously reconsider their career choices. One of the worst points of note, though, was the disproportionate number of drunks that night crews have to deal with.
Not only that, it's often very much a different breed of drinker, with daytime drunks being sozzled but largely harmless alcoholics needing treatment for their latest ill, whilst night work more often involves binge drinkers who are incoherent, unappreciative or even downright abusive.
So how does that compare with your ideas or experiences of a typical night shift? Any points our respondents failed to hit upon? Get in touch if you have any stories that only those who've worked a night shift will truly understand.
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