Day-Shift vs. Night-Shift Nursing: Looking at the Differences

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Nurse holding a cup of coffee

When seeking employment, registered nurses (RNs) have a multitude of options, including working the day or night shift. Each of the work periods has benefits to meet individual needs. Finding the right shift is vital to a fulfilling career and work-life balance.

Since the 1980s, when 12-hour shifts were introduced, hospitals have been operating on half-day shifts for around-the-clock RN coverage. Today, nurses continue to see the advantages of working three- to-four-day work weeks and the option to choose days or nights.

Keith Carson, BSN, who runs the popular Nurse Keith blog and podcast, said the difference between night shift vs day shift nursing remains a personal choice.

“We need nurses working both days and nights, and there are luckily always people who prefer one over the other. Both days and nights have their ups and downs, and every nurse has to find the work style that fits with their chosen lifestyle. And as your life changes over the years, the shifts that seemed totally unworkable to you in the past may begin to seem more attractive as you and your life evolve,” he said in “Day Shift vs. Night Shift: A Consistent Nursing Dilemma.” “You’re not married to your work-related choices forever. Make the best choice for now and be open to a new way of working in the future.”

While the overall nursing responsibilities remain the same no matter which shift is worked, the atmosphere, energy and mood are different. For RNs who earn a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree, including an RN to BSN online, the night shift vs day shift nursing options can each provide advantages. With the added competencies and higher employment demand that come with the degree, BSN-educated nurses can choose the shift that works best for them.

Day and Night: Considerations

In choosing between shifts, nurses have to consider how the hours will fit into their lifestyles. These are some of the top considerations regarding nursing shift work:


The typical 12-hour day shift begins between 6:30 and 7:30 a.m., while the night shift starts between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. Day-shift nurses can typically maintain their regular sleep schedules, while night shift workers must adjust their circadian rhythm, the body’s 24-hour clock that cycles between sleep and wakefulness on a regular schedule.

Family responsibilities

Shift work provides nurses with children with the flexibility that parents working typical shifts may not have. Working day shift means nurses can be home for homework, bedtime stories and even some after-school activities. Night shift allows nurses to greet their young ones at breakfast, volunteer in classrooms and attend field trips. Nightshift also enables nurses to handle morning doctor’s appointments and other family responsibilities.

Professional skills and advancement

Because hospitals are bustling with activity in the daytime hours, day-shift nurses have more significant opportunities to hone skills that include starting IVs and placing catheters and can interact with a varied mix of professionals, including hospital administrators, physicians and senior nurses. Increased facetime can create opportunities for professional advancement. At the same time, night-shift nurses have a chance to develop skills to provide better levels of care. The less-hurried environment also allows for attentive patient contact.

“The new or recently graduated nurse may be able to start in the position or specialty desired by accepting less popular shifts,” Sharon A. Morgan, MSN, told NursesRX. Morgan is the American Nurses Association (ANA) senior policy advisor for nursing practice and work environment.


With families visiting, medical professionals making rounds and overall higher demands, day-shift nurses work at a faster pace, which can make the day seem faster. The rapid pace of day shift workers encourages nurses to learn how to move quickly on their feet.

“During day shift, meals are distributed to patient rooms three times a day and there are simply more personnel running around from task to task. Many nurses say that the potential for all hell to break loose is often more likely on days,” Carson said in his “Day Shift vs. Night Shift: A Consistent Nursing Dilemma” article.

Because fewer staff members are working at night, and patients are sleeping, the pace tends to be slower. The quiet allows nurses to focus on patient care.


While nursing is generally a lucrative career, nurses who work night shift typically make more than their daytime counterparts. Most 24-hour medical facilities offer pay differentials to nurses who work the night shift.

Other differences between day and night shift include better access to a hot meal in the cafeteria (day shift), fewer commuting hassles (night shift), never missing a staff meeting (day shift) and fewer patient discharges (night shift).

Advantages of Day vs. Night

Fran Laukaitis, chief nursing officer at Methodist Charlton Medical Center in Dallas, TX, told Every Nurse the night-shift crew must be more resourceful because fewer managers are on duty. The situation helps build bonds.

“They (nurses) have a great deal of autonomy and because they rely so much on each other, they tend to have a special camaraderie,” she said in “Survival Tips for Nurses Working the Night Shift.”

For newly graduated nurses, especially those who are taking on RN-BSN roles, the choice between working the day or night shift can mean changes in job responsibilities. Because BSN nurses are highly valued for their advanced skills and competencies, they may be asked to take on greater levels of responsibilities that can lead to additional nursing career options.

At Duquesne University, the RN to BSN online program provides RNs with the education and experiences they need to excel in handling day shift and night shift nursing.

About Duquesne University online Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN-BSN) program

Duquesne University has been educating nursing students since 1935. The University’s 100% online RN-BSN program allows nurses to advance their education while keeping pace with their family obligations. Duquesne University online BSN students work collaboratively with faculty mentors and peers for a better understanding of the future of healthcare. For more information about the program, contact Duquesne University today.




Day Shift vs. Night Shift: A Consistent Nursing Dilemma” Nurse Keith’s Digital Doorway

What is Circadian Rhythm: National Sleep Foundation

Night-shift Nursing: 15 Survival Tips for Newbies: NursesRX

You Can Thrive On The Night Shift: Scrubs Mag

Survival Tips for Nurses Working the Night Shift: Every Nurse