Night Shift Tips for Working Parents

How to Work the Night Shift When You Have Kids

Working a late-night or overnight shift as a nurse can be grueling no matter what your personal circumstances, but these shifts can be especially difficult if you’re a working parent. The night shift might mean you’re on all day taking care of the kids and on all night taking care of patients.

While a supportive spouse or partner might help mitigate the challenges of working long, late hours, it’s still a difficult routine to adjust to as a parent. Here are some night shift tips for working parents trying to balance their career and their family obligations.

The Cons of Taking the Night Shift

There’s a reason hospitals often struggle to fill their night shifts: Most people don’t want to work them due to the constant disturbance to their sleep pattern. Working the night shift comes with a few common challenges:

  • It’s difficult to establish a healthy routine. Exhaustion is a common theme for many night-shift workers — especially if they double as mothers. Odds are, the time you don’t spend working will be spent getting kids ready for school or cooking dinner before racing back to work for the evening, a few hours of sleep snuck in between.
  • You might have an inconsistent work schedule. Many night-shift workers also have to work day shifts, and adjusting from one to the other can throw the body off. You’ll be eating meals at strange times, working out whenever it fits into your day, and catching up on sleep whenever possible.
  • You’re out of sync with the ‘regular’ working world. Sleeping while others are settled at their 9-5s and your children are at school, can be an isolating feeling.
  • You’ll miss out on dinner and bedtime rituals with your kids. As your children wind down for the night, you’ll already be at work answering call bells and caring for patients.  

The Pros of Taking the Night Shift

The night shift isn’t all bad, though. Here are some key advantages to working while the rest of the world is sleeping.

  • You’ll likely be paid better. The median annual wage for RNs is $35.34 per hour, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, that hourly rate depends on when you work: There’s a 12% shift differential for evening hours and a whopping 20.5% differential for night shifts.
  • You’ll build stronger workplace relationships. Because there’s more downtime during night shifts, nurses working these shifts tend to bond more than day nurses and lean on each other to make it through the night. Additionally, they have more quality time to spend with their patients, ensuring they’re physically comfortable and emotionally supported.
  • Your shifts are often calmer. Day shifts are typically the most hectic at a health care facility, while nights are typically much slower, allowing nurses to take their time and catch up on important administrative work the day nurses may not have time for.
  • You won’t miss out on quality time with your kids during the day. While you might spend part of the day sleeping as a night shift nurse, you’ll also have more time to spend with your kids after school. Another plus is that you can be available to them during the day in the event that they need a classroom volunteer or need to be picked up if they aren’t feeling well.

Night Shift Tips for Working Parents

If you’re juggling the roles of parent and night shift nurse, you’re not alone. Some parents purposely choose this schedule so they don’t have to hire anyone to watch their kids during the day and can spend quality time with them. However, it takes effort to find the right balance and create a healthy lifestyle for yourself and your family.

Follow these night shift tips if you’re a parent working NOCs:

1. Create and Stick to a Routine.

As difficult as it might be to follow a routine while working a night shift, you can develop small habits, like blocking out eight hours of your day to sleep before work, waking up two hours before your shift to have dinner with your family, and scheduling time for exercise or personal hobbies. These little routines will help you feel healthier and more balanced.

2. Meal-Prep on Your Days Off.

Eating the right foods is key to keeping your energy high during your overnight shifts. Choose one of your days off to prepare healthy meals for your workdays, including those you can take on-the-go to enjoy during your shifts. Dishes and snacks with lots of protein, from frozen chicken burritos to peanut butter oat balls, will become your best friend.

3. Make Time for Sleep and Self-Care.

Nursing is a taxing career, especially if you’re working overnight shifts. That’s why self-care is crucial to preventing burnout. Make sure you prioritize your overall well-being by clearing time for long walks or runs outdoors, reading or journaling, any hobbies you enjoy, and lots of sleep.

4. Get Help From Your Partner, Family Members, or a Nanny.

You don’t have to handle everything in your household alone. It’s OK — and healthy — to lean on your partner and other family members, or even hire a nanny to watch your kids while you catch up on sleep.

Want to sleep later so you’re well-rested for work? Ask your partner to cook dinner that night. Trying to squeeze in some self-care on your day off? Reach out to your mom to take the kids for a few hours. Don’t have time to take the kids to school after work? Hire a nanny to drop them off. Doing so will ensure you’re at your best — both on and off your shift.

5. Remind Yourself Why You’re Doing It.

There are many benefits to working the night shift. Maybe you wanted extra time with your kids during the day, or you wanted to earn more money to save up for a new house. Keep those reasons in mind when you feel yourself growing tired or burnt out.