How to manage third shift and a family

By Dr Pushpa Chandra

Mar 16

While working third shift may offers nurses and other health care professionals better pay, working nights comes with many drawbacks as well. Many nurses that work midnights have a tough time keeping a social life, exercises, sleeping, and managing their family obligations. Working this shift also comes with some serious health risks. For example, interrupting the body’s natural circadian rhythm has the potential to result in weight gain and increase the risk for insomnia and heart disease. Some studies even show a link between working third shift and stroke, depression, addiction, high blood pressure, anxiety, and traffic accidents.

One of the most difficult parts of working nights is trying to manage a family as well. All family members can feel the effects of a nurse working nights. Since there’s a lack of synchrony between the hours on the job and the daily family routines, many shift workers have to deal with more family related problems. Working nights makes it more difficult to spend time with children, particularly small children who are in bed early. Shift workers often find it difficult to spend time with their spouse, particularly when the spouse works day shift. Patterns of recreation, sleep, and mealtime often have to be altered so spouses can spend time together when one of them works third shift.

Shift workers often find it difficult to spend time with their spouse, particularly when the spouse works day shift.

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Although managing third shift and a family can be difficult, there are some ways to minimize the stress that comes with this schedule. With communication, balance, and flexibility, it's possible to come up with a good family schedule that works well for everyone. Here’s a closer look at some helpful tips that can help juggle family and the night shift effectively.

Talk to family members about the difficulties of working nights

Take the time to talk to the entire family about the difficulties of working nights. Nurses should let family members know how the schedule affects them and they should be willing to listen to how family members are affected too. Discuss the changes that may need to be made to accommodate this schedule and let family members know that you’ll be working hard to minimize the effects of this schedule on them. Being open and honest can help families come up with arrangements and compromises that will meet everyone’s needs.

Preserve your sleep

Nurses can’t afford to skimp on sleep if they’re going to manage family and work third shift. Consider purchasing darker, heavier blinds or curtains to black out the bedroom for better sleep. Try to keep a regular sleep schedule each day. While it’s easy to worry about what’s going on at home, it’s essential to put aside everything else to sleep. By getting enough sleep, nurses will be better able to function in the hours that are available to spend with family.

Nurses can’t afford to skimp on sleep if they’re going to manage family and work third shift.

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Engage in Gentle, Regular Exercise

Another essential tip for managing third shift and a family is to engage in gentle, regular exercise. Not only is exercise a natural stress reliever, it keeps the body strong and healthy. Exercising regularly also makes it easier to sleep, which is a problem for many nurses working at night. By reducing stress and improving overall health with exercise, nurses will be better able to handle family responsibilities when they aren’t at work.

Schedule time for family

During waking hours, make sure to schedule time for family. Plan activities with the family, ensuring that quality time can be spent with family members during waking hours. This can help to make up for the time that nurses may be missing with the family due to their current work and sleep schedule. Spending plenty of time with family during waking hours can reduce feelings of guilt that many nurses have when working the night shift.

While nurses may not be able to control their hours at work, they can take measures to control how they manage third shift and family. Protecting health and working hard to spend plenty of time with family whenever possible can help nurses and other medical professionals keep a healthy balance that works for the entire family.


About the Author

Dr. Pushpa Chandra is a Vancouver-based Naturopathic Physician. She worked for over 27 years as a registered nurse and 22 years at BC's Children's Hospital, working in critical care with the province's sickest children. Her interests include research in circadian rhythm disruption, sports medicine and pediatrics. A competitive sports enthusiast, she has completed ultramarathons and marathons in all 7 continents. As a shift worker she has been using the ingredients of AWAKE and ASLEEP to boost her performance, endurance and overall health.