Night duty brain fog

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Have you ever worked night shift? Felt that bone weary illness and thought – why am I doing this to myself? Research shows it takes ten years off a persons’ life when they continually mess up their biorhythms with shift work. Your immunity is depressed, healthy diet and exercise is affected, and for some, the lack of natural sunlight in the day can affect the happiness hormones and much, much more.

But someones gotta do it right? You wouldn’t want those babies dropping to the floor because there’s no midwife on night shift! I don’t know why women can’t organize themselves to having their babies between say 8am and 8pm but it just doesn’t seem to happen.

Night duty brain fog is real. It’s like working while drunk – the words don’t come as easily or appropriately, your tolerance levels are lower, and fits of the giggles at inappropriate times have been known to happen to the best of us. Coffee is a two faced friend who is all bubbly and friendly but doesn’t shut off when you no longer need them around.

In Australia, nurses and midwives are contracted work 24 hour cover – morning, afternoon and night shifts with a third of their allocated shifts in each. So in one week we can start at 0630 or 1430 or 2245 hrs and do our 8 hour shift from there. We can get all three shifts in one week but at least one bout of night duty per fortnight or month.

Nursing in England is pretty much the same as here in Australia but America seems to have this one organized better where you are only employed for the one shift ever – 12 hour days or nights in a lot of places. It really makes a huge difference to home life when zombie time is reduced. It never seemed to bother me when I was younger but I’m pretty much over it now. The average age of the midwife in Australia is 53 so let’s get some of these younger ones up here and take a share.

Night duties

The house is all quiet, the family is tucked in their beds and that’s when I head off to work. The best thing about night duty is that a lot of babies are born in the wee hours and cuddle times may be necessary to relieve tired new mums from their restless babes for a well-earned nap. Sleeping like a baby is no great accomplishment but is still an enviable position at some point in the night.

sleeeping babe

There is far less management around so less unnecessary “looking busy” time required. Of course, there are always restocking to be done, and kits to be checked for completeness or out-of-date products, general tidying and other “quality” chores but that 3-4am time still hits hard unless the adrenaline is flying and activity levels are high. Eating helps reawaken sluggish bodies but a tired body doesn’t always want a garden salad at 2am so unhealthy habits are in danger of forming.

Keeping busy

One problem with the night shift is when the patients are actually sleeping – this is not a frequent problem in maternity wards, Emergency wards and many other units as the care goes on 24 hrs a day – just with less staff on the floor to help out. Women still pop in when they are in labor – they don’t tend to stay home until daylight for some reason. And Let’s not mention the full moon scenario (it’s definitely all true in my experience).

Day time sleeping

If you make it home with the equivalent of being a drink driver with fatigue, there are more obstacles in staying asleep once you finally get into you comfy bed or sanctuary. The tiniest sliver of light will find your eyeballs no matter the position of the bed/ sun/ curtains – it’s just a fact – it will happen so just get over it.

The kids / partner / stranger will suddenly need to contact you for something that can’t wait (in their opinion – if they are not dying it’s not important in my opinion). Guilt is also a constant companion when we are trying to sleep instead of joining family activities or conversations we would otherwise be involved in.

Try to imagine if you woke up at 11pm or midnight and just got up and started your day…… Not good for optimal brain function let me warn you. Please do not disturb a shift worker if actually sleeping – it is a very dangerous thing to do. Sleep is an important time when the brain reorganizes thoughts and lays down memories. It’s no wonder it can be used as a torture method – keep someone awake long enough or just prevent deep sleep and see their mental health deteriorate.

Life Balance

The day you get home after the night shift is called your day off – even though you worked from midnight to 7am. Even pilots have the grace to call it a “Grey day” and not a day off. I don’t know why it rankles about what it’s called but it does. If any other job required you to serve for 7 hours and call it a day off – I don’t think many would be signing up for that.

There are many ways to come off a night shift but I find I can’t pass up at least a couple of hours sleep before starting the day… Again…. The zombie feeling lasts at least most of that day and into the next day. Luckily you are probably back to work the next day so you can get back into getting up early or going to bed late all over again. No such thing as a circadian Rhythm.

Sleep improvement sites usually always mention using regular bed times as a way to improve your sleep pattern but this is impossible for our current healthcare shift workers. Poor sleep between shifts is the norm and it’s not until holidays that you realize how tired you have been for months


We are lucky we love our job so much. Being a midwife is a privilege and a pleasure most of the time. It can be high pressured, minimal breaks and eating on your feet but it can be sweet, awesome, and grounding all in the same shift. Being involved in the support of women in labor and the first few moments of a new life is a beautiful and awesome thing that is not for everyone. For those who also do the overnight work, or support their partners who do – I salute you all.


2 thoughts on “Night duty brain fog

  1. I worked nightshifts for the last ten years, it was very exausting sometimes. Gladly I got out of it last december. But I got the feeling I´m not really used to working at daytime, yet. Thanks for sharing your experience in this matter.

    • Thanks for reading Thimo. How did you get out? What are you doing now? I love my job and can’t imagine not working with pregnant women but the compulsory night shifts are becoming a deal breaker for me sadly. I’m on the lookout for another life out there – maybe just around the corner!

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