Nocturnal: Breaking the Stigma Surrounding Night-Shift Nursing


Written by: Ashleigh Kaminski, MSN, RN, CCRN


As nurses, we are no strangers to the fact that 24-hour patient care requires someone to work overnight. The idea of night shift is introduced to nursing students in a not-so-glamorous manner. If anything, nursing students graduate and begin their careers as terrified new grads who now also have to balance night shift life with their bedside learning. They tell us about night shift in nursing school, but they don’t teach us about night shift. Nurses think having a normal life won’t exist anymore… or will it?


Shift work takes a toll on the body physically, mentally, and emotionally. Most of the time, nurses are feeling the short-term effects like sleepiness, irritability, hunger, FOMO. It’s the long-term effects that can be detrimental when not acknowledged sooner.

While living daily life with a night shift schedule can be challenging, it isn’t impossible. In order to make the most out of the day and ditch a night shift hangover, nurses must address 3 crucial things that can make or break them: mindset, routine, and boundaries. When they do, they improve overall health, boost energy, and increase happiness while decreasing burnout. Let’s dive a little deeper.


Mindset Reset


The stigma surrounding night shift emphasizes that night shift nurses never get sleep, miss out on everything, gain more than a “freshman fifteen”, and lose all hope of getting anything accomplished on days off. This stigma has been passed down from unhappy night shift nurses to new grads who then turn into unhappy night shift nurses. They then spread the same stigma and so on. It’s this kind of thinking and learned perception that keeps nurses victim to what they think night shift is like. Not anymore!


Fighting against your night shift schedule will only make matters worse over time. Instead, start thinking about why you enjoy working the night shift and how it works with you or for you. Then ask yourself what you can change about your night shift routine to make flipping back and forth better or easier. 


Guess what you’re doing when you do that? You’re taking control. No more night shift pity-party because you are choosing what comes next. You’re choosing to do things that help you prepare for and recover from your shift so you feel good.


The tough love is this: YOU are the hero of your night shift routine. YOU choose to play victim to a night shift schedule or do something about it. YOU control whether you wake up feeling awful or ready to tackle the day. Not every day will be perfect. You won’t always be able to feel 10/10. What you can do is set up your routine so you know what makes you feel better and be more in control of your day-to-day.


Routine Re-do


Speaking of taking control of your routine, what is it that you’re taking control of exactly? Good question. Your routine should get you back to basic human needs. This includes sleep, good nutrition, physical movement, stress relieving activities, and socialization. The trouble with night shift is that unless you strictly stay on a nighttime schedule, meaning even on off days you stay up all night and sleep all day, your body will never fully adapt to night shift. For this reason, we must take a different approach.


Nurses should design a routine for four different “days” in the night shift schedule to match their needs to the time they have. The four “days” in a night shift schedule are:


  1. Night on: that first night you go back to work after having a day off the day before.
  2. Day off: a normal day when you went to sleep the night before, woke up in the morning, and went to sleep again at night.
  3. Back-to-back: you come home from work, sleep all day, and go back again.
  4. Flip day: your first day “off” but you are coming off a shift and want to flip back to a normal schedule.


By using this radical approach to set up your week, you take control of when you sleep, what and when you eat, if you have time for physical movement, and when you have time for your family and friends. Ultimately, you just planned out your week. It includes the recovery you need from night shift, while also adding in much-needed self-care, and social time with loved ones. This schedule helps you stay resilient, so you can do it all over again next week!


Basic Boundaries


Remaining resilient and committed to your new routine is nothing without setting some basic boundaries for yourself. Surprise… boundaries are all about control (just like your mindset). They are that line you draw in the sand, or in this case, the line you draw with FOMO.

Whether you’re questioning if you should say yes or no to an extra shift, a family event, or even a simple appointment, check with your routine first. The trick is: if it interferes with sleep time, it should be a solid NO unless other options are not available. However, your routines are as flexible as you allow them to be. Too much flex and others will start to pick up on it, potentially leaving an opening to take advantage of you. Communicating your boundaries to family and friends is key to succeeding at getting the recovery you need, so you can be the best version of yourself for others. Boundaries around your routine help you and others maintain respect for your health and wellbeing.


Putting it all together


Resiliency to bounce back and burnout-prevention is the ultimate goal for night shift nurses. The longer you work night shift, the more your body can feel physical, mental, and emotional effects. Change your mindset around the stigma, design a routine that will help you flip back and forth, and set up some solid boundaries for yourself and others. With these tips, you can live a day time life with a night shift schedule. You’ve got this!


Too Long; Didn’t Read:


Night shift isn’t going anywhere. Stop fighting with the schedule. Start working with it.

Your mindset drives how you want to FEEL as a night shift nurse.

Routines help you know WHAT to do and WHEN to do it so you feel good.

Boundaries help you MAINTAIN that feel-good momentum.

You can still be YOU, no matter what day it is in your night shift schedule!


About Me:
Ashleigh Kaminski, MSN, RN, CCRN


Ashleigh is a certified NICU nurse by night and a night shift nurse mentor by day. She is not a “been there, done that” coach teaching night shift tips and tricks. Ashleigh is a “still there, doing that” mentor working 12-hour night shifts for 8 years and counting. She shows new and seasoned nurses how to navigate life with a night shift schedule by providing education, support, and resources through her free online community and Flip the Shift Method & Mentorship offerings. Ashleigh is passionate about breaking the stigma and intimidation around night shift nursing because night shift nurses deserve to design and live a healthy, balanced lifestyle they love!


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Edits by: Claire Lang, BSN-RN

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