When I started my first nursing job in the hospital, I thought 12-hour shifts were really daunting. That is a long period of time to be working!! The best perk about it, though, is that you get four days off. It definitely made the long shifts worthwhile. Here are a few tips from Jessica at Vive Health about how to survive the seemingly never ending shifts.

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8 Tips for Surviving a 12-Hour Shift

12-hour shifts have been commonplace in the nursing industry for some time. They often afford a nurse the ability to work three days and week and then have four days off. While the schedule may be attractive, 12-hour shifts can still be long and grueling, especially when there is continuous activity and little chance to take a break.

Check out these 8 quick tips for surviving a 12-hour shift:

Fuel with Healthy Foods

Few things give your body the long-lasting energy it requires to successfully manage a 12-hour shift quite like healthy, whole foods. It’s important to start your shift with a generous dose of protein as well as fiber (think oatmeal with fruit, or eggs and whole grain toast) and then keep healthy snacks on hand throughout your shift that deliver you helpful nutrients and fuel.

Avoiding lots of sugar and simple carbs at the beginning will keep you from crashing halfway through your shift and suddenly craving more unhealthy food. For snacks, skip the processed vending machine staples and fried food from the cafeteria and opt for quick, filling bites like:

  • Cheese sticks

  • Sliced bell pepper, carrot sticks with hummus

  • Whole grain tortilla chips

  • Greek yogurt

  • Mixed nuts

  • Dried and fresh fruit

Monitor Caffeine

No matter whether your shift is during the day or overnight, caffeine may play a role in helping you feel awake and alert. Be mindful of your caffeine consumption throughout your shift, however, to avoid over-caffeinating and feeling jumpy or anxious or worse yet, messing with your sleep after your shift. If you are feeling sluggish on a shift, consider other ways of stimulating your brain like chewing gum, drinking more water, or talking to your coworkers.

Sleep Well

Both quantity and quality of sleep are important when it comes to preparing your mind and body for a 12-hour nursing shift. Not only does good regular sleep keep you from feeling drowsy and foggy during your shift, but it can also contribute to your attentiveness and alertness during high-stress situations which inevitably arise in healthcare settings. Create a sleep schedule and stick with it; that means having regular bedtime and wake time routines.

Use Compression Socks

The very nature of a 12-hour shift means you have to stand for extended periods of time. This alone is a risk factor for varicose veins when blood pools in a dysfunctional vein or veins in the legs and feet. Wearing compression socks and/or hose over your legs while you work can help facilitate stronger circulation to return blood flow back up towards your heart and potentially prevent varicose veins.

Wear Good Shoes

Proper body mechanics always start with the feet. Well-fitting shoes that support your ankles and the arches of your feet are a must for nurses working long shifts where you might be on your feet almost the entire time. When buying shoes, consider getting your feet properly sized by an attendant at a shoe store and buy them in the second half of the day when your feet are at their largest. The tread on shoes can wear down for nurses in as quickly as six to nine months so plan on investing in new work shoes yearly.

Stretch and Move

As a nurse, you may find yourself standing for long periods of your shift working with patients or sitting for long periods while you chart at your computer. Either way, it is critical that you incorporate stretching and movement into your day to keep blood flowing, joints loose, and muscles relaxed and flexible. Track your steps too with a wearable fitness tracker or the Health app on your smartphone to stay motivated too.

Become a Lifting Pro

Nurses experience some of the highest rates of injury on the job in part because of the amount of lifting involved. Rising disability and obesity rates among patients combined with duties like transferring and repositioning patients put nurses and high risk for musculoskeletal disorders like herniated disks and rotator cuff tears. Reinforce your lifting technique with assistive devices like lift belts and Hoyer lifts and always ask for a helping hand from a fellow coworker when manually handling patients.

Practice Self-Care

Most healthcare settings can be physically and mentally demanding, however, for nurses working in fast-paced settings like the ICU, the tension and stress can be even higher and take an emotional and mental toll. When working a 12-hour shift, it is critical that nurses practice self-care to keep themselves mentally grounded and them and their patients safe. Self-care can be as simple as stepping outside on your break to get some sun, making time to eat a healthy meal during your shift, venting to a coworker, or doing a mini yoga session in an empty room.

Author Biography

Jessica Hegg is the content manager at ViveHealth.com.  Avid gym-rat and nutrition enthusiast, she’s interested in all things related to staying active and living healthy lifestyle. Through her writing she works to share valuable information aimed at overcoming obstacles and improving the quality of life for others.

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AuthorCourtney Tracy