History of Bipolar Disorder, can I do this?

Nurses Disabilities


Nurses with experience, I need you advise! About 12 years ago I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I was on meds for 2 years, stabilized and went off meds. I have been off meds for 10 years now except the occasional Xanax and ambien and for the most part done very well. I get regular sleep, exercise, eat clean which seems to help keep me stable. Recently I was offered a position in a new grad nurse residency program. After 4 months of day shift orientation I will move to night shift with a preceptor for 1 month and then be on my own full time nights. My question is: will this be safe? I have read posts of individuals with bipolar who could not manage night, but are there individuals out there that manage okay? If so, what are your tips? Also, I am wondering if anyone has had success with changing schedule, either to part time nights or day shift, because of a decline in mental health? Thanks you!

Long Term Care Columnist / Guide

VivaLasViejas, ASN, RN

108 Articles; 9,985 Posts

Specializes in LTC, assisted living, med-surg, psych.

Hello, and Welcome to Allnurses!

I'm a longtime member here who also happens to have rapid-cycling bipolar 1. I got through most of my career undiagnosed (didn't find out till a little over 2 years ago) but struggled badly with nursing jobs. Ironically, I was the most stable when I was working straight nights, although aging eventually made it all but impossible for me to do nights anymore.

My psychiatrist puts it this way: SOME people with bipolar can work nights, IF they are stable and IF they stick strictly to a night schedule, even on their days off. It's when you go back and forth between days and nights that you're more apt to decompensate. Since you're not on medications, you don't have to worry about taking them at the same time(s) every day; the trick is to make sure you are getting adequate sleep and that you sleep on a schedule.

Make sure your room is dark and quiet (blackout curtains and white noise from a fan help more than you'd think), turn your phone off, and instruct everyone you live with that your sleep time is not to be interrupted unless the house is on fire. A warm bath or shower 30-45 minutes or so before going to bed also helps trick your body into thinking it's time for sleep.

You may do fine with nights. You won't know until you try. I wish I COULD work nights, because I am not a morning person and I can't handle all the distractions of day shift, e.g. ringing phones, families, "suits", new orders, doctors, prepping pts for surgery etc. But my nursing career has taken several hits due to my mental health, so I'm not working at all right now, and I've stopped looking for nursing jobs so I may not be the best person to advise you. I hope some other BP nurses here who are currently practicing will stop by and offer you their perspectives.

Wishing you the very best. :)

Specializes in pediatrics; PICU; NICU.

I have bipolar 2 & have worked nights exclusively for the past 38 years. Yuck to day shift!! I'm like Viva: definitely not a morning person! I haven't had problems with my bipolar related to working nights (which actually surprises my psychiatrist). I don't stick to a night schedule on my nights off; I switch back to a day schedule. The reason I do that is because I only work 3 nights a week. This works for me at this point in my life. When I worked full time, I did stick to a strictly night schedule.

My sleep time is sacred to me. I wear a sleep mask which I put a few drops of lavender essential oil on, there's a note on our front door not to disturb between 9 a.m. & 1 p.m, & everyone I know is really good about not calling during the day unless it's a true emergency. I have one friend who could not seem to understand that I sleep during the day. She used to call me almost every day around 11 a.m. I explained until I was blue in the face & she still did it. One night I decided I would call her at 2 a.m. She was so ticked! I said, "Now you know what I mean about you calling me in the middle of the day". She hasn't called me during the day since.

I think as long as your bipolar is stable, with or without meds, night shift shouldn't be a problem.


62 Posts

Specializes in Medical-Surgical / Palliative/ Hospice.

Much like the two previous posters, I am a longtime nurse with a longtime history of bipolar disorder and anxiety. Some days I wonder how I have made it this far as a nurse. I work nights for the anxiety, and stay on a night-shift schedule on my days off so I can get a proper amount of sleep. My husband works from home and we donʻt have kids, so it may be easier for me than many other people. I have had multiple conversations with my extended family about daytime events, and they finally ʻget itʻ.

I did the best when I worked 3p-11p three days a week. This schedule is nearly impossible to find in the hospital setting, and I donʻt want to do it 5 days a week, so 3 12ʻs it is for me. Itʻs hard to function sometimes on my ʻlowʻ days, but I try to forget myself and remember I am there for the patients, and I just do my best. I rarely work overtime, and I seem to use up my PTO on mini-vacations when things get really stressful. I see a therapist and a psychiatrist occasionally just to stay on track. Thereʻs very little research out there (that I can find) regarding bipolar disorder and 12 hour night shifts. I donʻt broadcast my issues at work, but I trust a couple people that I can tell when Iʻm a little ʻoffʻ and may need a little extra help. I make up for it on my ʻupʻ days. Ha ha.

Routines really help, and you will find your own! Having a good support system at work and at home helps a lot, too. Good luck, let us know how you are doing!


26 Posts

This is my problem how can you be a nurse with a mental illness? (serious question) At some point aren't you scared that something may happen that will arise and you aren't able to control it?

Long Term Care Columnist / Guide

VivaLasViejas, ASN, RN

108 Articles; 9,985 Posts

Specializes in LTC, assisted living, med-surg, psych.
This is my problem how can you be a nurse with a mental illness? (serious question) At some point aren't you scared that something may happen that will arise and you aren't able to control it?

Certainly, there is a risk involved, but that's true of everyone: all nurses are capable of making mistakes. Just because one happens to have a mental illness does not mean that they will spin out of control like characters in a TV drama. Many things can be done to stabilize the person and keep them that way, including therapy, medications, diet, exercise, acupuncture, and good sleep hygiene. But they must be willing to seek and accept help, and do everything they can to maintain stability once achieved.

There is no reason why someone with psychiatric issues cannot, or should not be a nurse as long as those issues are under good control. It's best if they have some insight as to the early signs and symptoms of decompensation, which can be learned with the help of a therapist or psychiatrist, so they can stop an episode before it gets away from them.

Specializes in Just starting out in a Nursing Home..

Try running or yoga when stressed out. Healthcare can be stressful..I myself prefer the natural way of blowing off steam. When you are expected to have such broad shoulders in healthcare..well it can be tough to remain calm and cool and rational..blessings to ya

I have worked 6 years with 2 notes to take some days off when my meds got changed I have been stable Working 3/11 I feel with the right care yes Nurses can be successful with B/P disorder 

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