Nursing is one of those professions that doesn’t look much like the traditional nine-to-five work day.

The rest of the world is planned around the typical day worker, and nurses who work different shifts can easily become disconnected. Rotating shifts can make the problem worse.


Rotating Shifts

Rotating shifts developed as a way to ensure that everybody takes a turn at the less desirable shifts.

Each organization has its own system.

One of the most common patterns is two weeks of day shift, two weeks of evening shift and two weeks of night shift.

For those who work 12-hour shifts, a common pattern is two weeks to a month on days and two weeks to a month on nights.

Some experts think it may take as long as three years to adjust to an unusual sleep schedule (and that’s assuming it’s a regular cycle like straight night shifts).

Confusing the Clock

The biggest difficulty with rotating shifts is that your circadian clock gets confused.

Adapting to a night shift when you only work nights is a lot easier than switching back and forth.

Sleep deprivation is a very real danger, both to your own health and safety and that of your patients.

When you are sleep deprived, your attention and concentration can suffer, as can reaction time, memory and mood.

According to the UCLA Sleep Center, most people who work shifts are sleep deprived.

A Vanderbilt study reported that staying up for 24 hours straight on the first night back to work was the most damaging of all shift work strategies.


Adjust Your Schedule

Research shows that most people can adapt to rotating shifts more easily if the shifts rotate clockwise: days/evenings/nights/days or days/nights/days.

If your organization has a different pattern, talk to your manager about making a change.

Knowing the schedule ahead of time allows you to plan your sleep schedule to gradually adjust.

For example, if you’re working an evening shift followed by a night shift, delay the times you go to bed and wake up by a couple of hours each day.

By the time you’re ready to start night shift, your sleeping schedule will already be adjusted.


Try Other Strategies


Other strategies can help you with rotating shifts.

Naps can be helpful, especially if you nap about 90 minutes before you go to work.

Eat a healthy diet at regular times; meals are a cue to your body clock.


alcohol; it may make you sleepy initially, but it disrupts your sleep later in the night.

alcohol; it may make you sleepy initially, but it disrupts your sleep later in the night.

Sleeping pills are another potential problem.

They may offer temporary relief, but there’s a risk of dependency or side effects.

Caffeine is another strategy that can backfire; it may make you alert initially but cause sleep problems later.

A light box can help you adjust your sleep cycles; the bright light can adjust your body clock just as sunlight does.

If all else fails, think about changing jobs or volunteer to work straight night shifts.



Written by 3rd independent party

2016-22780  Exp. 5/18