4 Tips for Powering Through 12-hour Shifts

Twelve-hour shifts are considered the norm for nurses in many hospitals and even some long-term care facilities. However, many nurses enjoy the shorter workweek, usually three days versus five, that typically accompanies the 12-hour workday. For them, the perks outweigh the downside, which is long shifts, day-and-a-half versus an eight-hour or twelve-hour shift, that sometimes fall on consecutive days.

Check out these tips for powering through 12-hour shifts while maintaining a life away from the workplace. Then, take it from experienced long-shift nurses who’ve learned to adapt their lives, bodies, and schedules to 12-hour shifts—nurses who wouldn’t have it any other way.

1. Sleep matters

Their advice about sleep focuses on both quantity and timing. First, regardless of what time of day your shift begins, arrange your schedule so that you sleep in the hours before you go in. Do not pack half a day’s activities into your pre-shift hours and then head to work already tired.

Second, schedule enough time to sleep so that both your mind and body can function at their best. This means that sleeping just enough that you won’t slip into slumber while standing up is not an adequate amount. Consistently getting sufficient sleep is key to having ample energy to manage 12-hour shifts effectively and provide exceptional patient care.

2. Get organized

Organizing a day-to-day life schedule around your 12-hour shifts can be a complicated challenge, but those in the know guarantee it’s worth it. Begin with not scheduling errands, housework, or major cooking on workdays. In fact, the less you try to cram in before and after your long shift, the better. Not only does this save your physical energy for workplace responsibilities, but it also frees your mind from the nagging reminders that this, this, and this awaits you at home.

Strategize a schedule that lumps shopping, errands, and essential phone calls together on one non-workday. Tend to the house, prep a couple of meals or lunches, and tackle the laundry on another day off. Make time to connect with family and friends, too.

3. Stay busy on the job

Twelve hours is a long time. While some shifts may whiz by, others may creep along at a snail’s pace, particularly if your work hours cover slow times, such as an overnight shift. Boredom and fatigue may set in when time begins to drag, creating a distracted, wandering mind or sleepiness. Neither scenario is good, and both are likely to make the shift feel even longer.

Staying busy throughout a long shift will offer nurses a mental and physical boost. So, plan for slow days or the quiet of overnight shifts by compiling a list of productive ways to busy your mind and body, asking a supervisor for additional duties, or finding ways you can assist a co-worker.

4. Take every scheduled break

Whether you bring your own lunch/dinner or purchase from the cafeteria, never skip meals. Instead, take advantage of breaks to catch your breath, get a change of scenery, and grab a nutritious snack to refuel. Enjoy a few moments to clear your mind or even to close your eyes and relax (check out these relaxation apps). Also, make wise food choices by being aware of what types of food best fuel your body, rather than weigh it down. Finally, make a point to stay hydrated as fatigue is exacerbated by dehydration.

Adapting to 12-hour shifts is doable. Follow these tips to help maximize your life and career options.

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