The night duty blues.. (woe is me and fuck you to anyone getting between me and my recovery sleep)

When I signed up I knew I would be working nights. I knew it, but I looked at my mentors with excitement and intrigue – what could be more appealing than the quiet of the night and the increased rate of births? Oh holy hell, I was too deliriously in love with midwifing and pining over the moon to notice the slower movement of the staff.


Pre Night Duty

It all starts the day you wake up knowing you are working that night. If you let it, it will hang over you like a shadow, casting its weary darkness over everything you do. You cannot possibly inject any activity with your normal enthusiasm and vitality and waste precious molecules of energy that you might need to call on later. Oh no, you must be sombre and sullen and ruin a perfectly good day.

Sometimes, you might be tired enough to rest, so you abandon your family to snatch an hour or two of sleep to maybe put you in better stead for the night. But who are you kidding? You are a shift worker you are already tired on tired – you are simply catching up not earning credit. And you feel guilty. A.L.W.A.Y.S. If this puts anyone else out you can be sure that your sad, sorry, sullen day has also just turned guilty too.


On night duty

Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely awesome things about night duty:

  • Its quieter
  • Less political bullshit to wade through
  • Midnight chats with new mothers
  • Baby snuggles
  • Delerium (and this is one of my favorites): Nothing in particular or something marginally funny can set you off with such a severe case of the giggles you will be covering your mouth so as not to wake the patients. The sillyness I have participated in and seen will stay in my pocket for life. Just writing this brings such a smile to my face.
  • Drop Baby’s (probably my favorite): the women who barely make it in the door and drop a baby.

But there are challenges too… like less back ups for emergencies. The sting in the back of your eyes. The hunger but uncertainty of what to eat. The frequency of weeing. The nausea that hits at 0400hrs. The pregnant pauses (and I mean mine) and poor constructions of sentences. The blank stares and blank thoughts. But it’s not that bad really. The hour before the morning staff come on you are so god damn perky you make yourself sick! The mind warps into odd thoughts like – that wasn’t so bad, I like nights. I feel great! Well the worst is yet to come. Ever wondered why there are so many memes for night duty???

Post night duty

So you have finished your shift… you drive home with exhaustion so profound that they have found it has the same effect to your reaction timing as drinking alcohol and getting behind the wheel. But its ok – we are allowed to put our lives in danger because its our job to look after others. Yes I have colleagues that live more than 30 minutes from the hospital that sometimes pull over to sleep in their car on the way home. Imagine being so tired that you can’t even make it home to your own comfy bed. Yes, you are reduced to dribbling on your seat belt and waking in a puddle of your own sweat with the sun beating through your window, a bladder so full it could burst and a passer-by knocking on your window to see if you’re alive.

The elation you feel when you get home, strip off your scrubs with what remaining energy you have is kind of amazing. Then you jump in the shower to wash off the stale sleepless night. But, this is all wrong… everyone else is just getting up. Bleary eyed and full of optimism. Well rested from a good, no GREAT night on unpunctuated sleep. You eat brinner (breakfast confused with dinner), which HAS to be something with substance that wont have you waking from your slumber starving. But the problem is you are NOT hungry. You just want to sleep. So you force your brinner down and carry out whatever other post night duty rituals needed then start making moves for bed. Your lovely, soft, plump, squishy, loving, warm, embracing, sleep conjuring bed.


You listen to the family plans of what exciting activities they have planned to avoid you. Its sad sometimes because you don’t want to miss out and you feel guilty for missing their presence. Or if they haven’t got much planned you worry they will keep you up. Catch 22. And if you are working again that night you are already concerned you are going to be on struggle street.

Ahhh, sweet, sweet sleep. With your mask on and crap hung over the cracks around the blinds keeping broad daylight out. Sleeeeep. Until 1400hrs when you have to wake up and pee. No escaping it. Lay back down… no sleep will come. The mowers, the blowers, the building site next door, the kids running past the window and shouting at each other outside your door (gasp and shudder). Then you find your self calculating the hours of sleep and hoping that it will be enough to get you through. Maybe you will be able to get another kip in. Maybe not. But you try to pick up your game for the sake of your family. You walk around with your spirits in your boots but a smile plastered on your face, with your foggy vision, pasty mouth and blank thoughts. But it isn’t their fault. And no they don’t understand. Nobody gets it, unless they do it.Many an arguments is had over the sleep of the shift worker, the tiredness of the shift worker, the mood of the shift worker…

Then, when you are finally feeling better. Tired but settled, you cook dinner and get the kids ready for bed and the night duty blues hit you full force. While your loved ones are tucked up, sweetly and safely in their bed you will be at work looking after women and their babies. There is no greater blessing than this vocation, but there is no denying the mark it leaves on you. No matter how much you love it, its hard working nights. Its a love hate relationship even with the nights themselves – its good while you are there but the fall out can be tough, not only on you but your loved ones too. It affects your social life and body clock and relationships.


I will always love the work I do by night. But the struggle is real.


If you are a night dweller like me, I send you immense love and understanding. And I give you great thanks for doing the work you do.


Love, love, love the Mod Mid xo

19 thoughts on “The night duty blues.. (woe is me and fuck you to anyone getting between me and my recovery sleep)

Add yours

  1. Wonderfully written, funny, but honest post I work on a stroke ward so add to that the 2-4 hour turnings, patients trying to get out of bed forgetting that they cannot walk and wandering dementia patients. All part of a nights work.


  2. My midwife/partner is like a Grizzly Bear with a toothache come day two of night shift and dog forbid anyone should come between her and uninterrupted sleep from that point on. She’s truly passionate about working with women but the struggle is indeed real for all who walk on eggshells around the entrance to her cave during the dark winter of her daily hibernation.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve been doing night shift since 1983. OB/Nsy specialty. I am “lucky” to sleep til 1400…that is after I crawl into bed by 0930-1000. Sometimes it isn’t quieter, but that’s what keeps us moving. I can say that I didn’t miss much of my family’s activities & special times b/c I’ve learned to sleep less & grab that hour nap before work. (make up sleep is scheduled for days off) Thanks for such a great post!


  4. worked nights in post natal/ ante natal for 30 years. Just retired and loving regular sleep and more time to catch up with family.


  5. So very true! I count the hours before I have “normal” night sleep….then begin counting the hours before I go back in….well written!


  6. Been doing nights since 1995. People often say you don’t know what you are missing (real natural sleep) until you finally get it back. I think I will wait and see in another 5 years when I retire. Sleep is somewhat over rated. Truly it is not for everyone.


  7. Try being a District nurse on nights. Out and about all night. 160 miles covered. Not being able to get into houses because no one told you the right key code. Trying to find light switches is always a good laugh. The weather. The Friday/Saturday night gauntlet of drunks and party goers throwing themselves at your car trying to get in for a lift. Having to pull over for the body in the road you have to check is drunk not dead. Having to leave someone as hey pass away as you have other calls and they have no family to stay with them. Lots more to add.


  8. Spot on!!! Until the part where you wake at 1400hrs…. for me it’s wake at 0930, 1030, 1145, 1215, 1330, then finally admit defeat at 1400 hrs 😦


  9. This is so true. No one understands exactly how you feel unless they do shift work. Right from the beginning of that first nightshift feeling to the end you have written it perfectly. My husband and family say to my family and friends she’s on nightshift don’t talk to her she’s like a tom cat. And I suppose I am in some ways due to lack of sleep.


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