How to Balance Night Shift Nursing with a Family

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By Aaron Alstrom

Hospital jobs are generally some of the most lucrative and prevalent jobs available for nurses. Unfortunately, these positions tend to come with less appealing side-effects like grueling 12-hour shifts and night, weekend, and holiday requirements. This can be a major dissatisfier for new grads who are forced into night shifts to pay their dues.  For some, though, these off-shifts translate to lower child care costs, higher pay, and other perks. Striking a desirable work-life balance can be a struggle but, once found, it will ensure a fulfilling career and a happy family. Read on for tips on how to balance night-shift nursing with raising a family.

The importance of sleep to night shift nursing

Any nurse who works the night shift understands the daytime nap is a vital yet elusive commodity. Without a proper night’s rest, you can’t be fully present for your family or your patients. The chronic lack of sleep associated with shift work impairs judgement, increases the risk for errors and mistakes, and is detrimental to your health. So what’s the fix? You could try to increase the number of hours you get to spend in bed, obviously. However, if that’s not possible, consider maximizing your time in bed. When driving home in the morning, be sure to wear sunglasses to minimize your exposure to UV light which drives down melatonin production. Melatonin, which is an endogenous hormone that promotes sleep, is also decreased by the blue light that comes from computers, smartphones, etc. Try to stay off the computer when you get home and switch on the blue light filter on your smartphone as you’re getting ready for bed. Put up blackout curtains in your bedroom and switch on a fan for white noise. There are a myriad of sleep aids that can be found over-the-counter. If you need something stronger, speak with your primary care provider for a prescription sleep medication. Your sleep is important to your well-being, your career, and your family; take the necessary steps to optimize the hours you do get to sleep.

Be intentional in your time spent with significant other and kids

Nursing is a rewarding and fulfilling career. However, it isn’t the only thing in life and it’s crucial to balance your career with the other important things in life like family, friends, and health. When you work the night shift, it’s so easy to emerge at the end of the work week and realize another week has flown off the calendar without any truly meaningful memories being made. At the beginning of the week, sit down with your significant other to discuss the family schedule and pin down times during the week to be together as a couple and as a family. Meet for lunch on your day off while the kids are at school. Have breakfast as a family before laying down for a nap after your shift. Plan low-impact family nights or dates like having pizza delivered and watching a movie on the couch. Go for a quick walk around the neighborhood before or after your shift and reconnect. It’s also vital to schedule time for yourself; you can’t give your all to your patients and your family if your cup is empty. Participating in a little self care like going to the gym, getting a manicure, or simply drinking your coffee in peace and quiet benefits everyone in your life, not just you.

Checking off your to-do list as a night shift nurse

On top of working three 12+ hour shifts, caring for your children, and being present for your significant other, your to-do list is probably a mile long. Bills to pay, groceries to buy, bathrooms to clean; it never ends. Consider automating as much of your to-do list as possible. Certain popular online shopping websites have various services with household supplies and groceries that can be delivered to your door. If you work three 12-hour shifts in a row and realize on the first day you’re almost out of toothpaste, many stores and websites offer 2-day shipping. You can knock out all the household supplies and non-perishables on your list, frequently for cheaper than if you went to the store. Additionally, a common trend on shopping websites is a subscription feature. You can set your cat litter, dog food, toilet paper, and other essentials to automatically be shipped to you at predetermined intervals.This service usually comes with a discounted price. This is a win-win since you can save money and the energy and brainpower of making sure you purchase these items each month.

With days passing in spurts when you work nights, it can be tricky to keep track of bill due dates and payments. Consider automating your bill pay and using online bill pay. It’s quicker and easier than snail mail; just click a few buttons and that task is crossed off your list!  It’s not always financially possible, but consider hiring someone to come clean your house every other week. If your list of chores is mounting and you are having trouble finding a balance between work, spending time with your family, and managing the household, a hundred dollars every other week may be a worthwhile expense to keep the dust at bay while stealing back a few extra hours (or more) to spend with your SO or children.

Night shift nursing can be a real challenge; it takes a special person to stay up all night caring for patients while raising a family. Be patient with yourself, your S/O, and your children while you find routines and tricks that work for you and your family. With time, you may just find that working the night shift allows you to find the work-life balance for which you’ve been searching.

“Aaron Alstrom


Healthcare Pros, Inc. – Cypress, CA

Website: HealthCare Pros is a Nurse staffing and management company with 25 years of industry-specific knowledge, experience, and care. We pride ourselves on delivering exceptional service and producing positive results for our clients.”

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