Night shift, Rotations and Your Body – Tips For Night Shift Workers

Night shift, Rotations and Your Body – Tips For Night Shift Workers

For years, you’ve been taking care of patients with some kind of cancer as part of their past medical history (PMH).

You’ve wondered how and why did these patients get this infamous disease. Apparently, science has yet some answers to give us, when it comes to the cause of it.

I used to fringe when I would hear this word: CANCER. Now, less and less. I’ve seen so many patients in ER and internal medicine with cancers as part of their PMHx, it almost feels as if it’s one of the many chronic illnesses that exist.

But when someone close to you is diagnosed, it’s not the same. It hits you home. It’s like a punch, or a blow.

And when it’s YOU… when you hear those words from your doc…

I can only imagine the shock, the numbness that one may feel.

As health professionals, we are not above the risks. I think we may even be more at risk. As nurses, we are more susceptible to some kind of cancers, notably breast cancer (BCA).

According to the study, “Rotating

A melatonin molecule

Night Shifts and Risk of Breast Cancer in Women Participating in the Nurses’ Health Study”, they found a ” moderate increase in breast cancer risk among the women who worked 1–14 years or 15–29 years on rotating night shifts” and “the risk was furth


er increased among women who worked 30 or more years on the night shift.”


This is just one of the many studies that are telling us that our work may affect our physical health. Other studies outline the stress of the job to be another risk factor for BCA.

Why am I outlining this? Because, for some of us, night shift means, less consultants, less meds to give, most patients sleeping, hence less job to do. But nights are intended to sleep. The amount of melatonin (the hormone of darkness) significantly drops in our body when we are exposed to unnatural lights in the middle of the night.

I’m not saying you have to quit your job or ask for a new day shift position. It doesn’t work like that anyway. For us nurses in Canada, most of the new nursing positions in hospital settings come with the rotation shifts (day/night) as part of the contract. There’s not much we can do about it.

What can we do then?

Here are some night shift nurse tips that you may find useful when you’re working on the night shift, or in rotation.

      1. For Canadian nurses, (Quebec), ask if you can do evening shifts instead of night shift (some nurse managers will allow it. Might as well try)

        tips for working night shift
        Try to dim lights around you as much as possible
      2. Make sure your rotations are done in blocks (ex. 3 weeks day-shift, 3 weeks night-shift, as opposed to 2 weeks day-shift, 1 week night-shift, 1 week day-shift, 1 week night-shift for example)
      3. Get enough sleep BEFORE you actually go to work (this way, you’ll be sort of compensating for the lack of sleep during the night)
      4. Depending on where you’re working, try to dim the lights as much as possible, when not documenting.
      5. Use your break to SLEEP (No face-booking, no instagramming, etc)
      6. Try to sleep in a completely dark area during you break.
      7. If you can’t find a dark area to sleep, use one of these eye masks. They basically fool your brain into thinking it’s dark, hence will ensure melatonin production.
      8. It’s a hard one but try not to use your cellphone while on break (yup, that’s considered light too!).
      9. Once your shift is done and you arrive at home, try to minimize the amount of light that is coming from you bedroom window. In other words, try to mimic nighttime darkness (deep and thick blinds).



Have you been a night shift worker for some time? Has it disturb your sleep pattern? What are your tips and tricks to fall asleep? Sharing is caring!


RN Didi



Journal of the National Cancer Institute.(2001) 93(20): 1563-1568. doi: 10.1093/jnci/93.20.1563


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