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4 Ways to Prepare for 12-Hour Nursing Shifts

Many nurses employed in hospitals, especially those who are recently licensed, work 12-hour shifts. In a study done by NYU's Rory Meyers College of Nursing, most RNs who were surveyed indicated a preference for the extended shift over a traditional eight-hour day. The three-day workweek creates room for nurses to spend more time with family or to bring in extra income through a second job.

Unfortunately, the extended workday can be grueling for nurses, who spend hours on their feet and often work in fast-paced, high-pressure conditions. For RNs to successfully navigate 12-hour nursing shifts, preparation is vital. 

Setting Yourself up for a Successful Nursing Shift

1. Prioritize Sleep

It's easy to sacrifice sleep in favor of completing household chores or binge-watching your favorite show, but it's important to start your 12-hour shift feeling well-rested and refreshed. Nursing fatigue is a reality, and according to the NSO, it can result in costly mistakes, accidents and errors that can harm patients' well-being and be devastating to a nurse's career.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that healthy adults between the ages of 26 and 64 get between seven to nine hours of sleep each night. To create an environment conducive to a restful night's sleep:

  • Avoid electronics before bedtime
  • Eliminate caffeine and alcohol at night
  • Keep your bedroom cool and dark

2. Eat Properly

Eating properly isn't easy when you're working a 12-hour shift, but your body needs to be properly fueled to function. As Harvard Business Review notes, what you eat has a direct impact on your cognitive performance. Your mood, memory, concentration and productivity can all be affected by what you eat. When you're working an extended shift, proper nutrition can mean the difference between performing optimally or performing poorly.

Unfortunately, unhealthy food tends to be cheaper and faster, but there are easy ways to incorporate good nutrition into your 12-hour shifts. Try:

  • Preparing meals ahead of time and freezing individual portions for easy grab-and-go workday lunches
  • Packaging snack-size portions of healthy foods such as edamame, nuts or mixed berries to satisfy cravings and supply in-between meal energy, helping you avoid a midday trip to the vending machine
  • Eating breakfast before your shift — quick, healthy options include avocado toast, green smoothies and Greek yogurt mixed with your choice of fruit

3. Stay Hydrated

Drinking water is important for your physical health and cognitive well-being. Dehydration can increase fatigue, decrease endurance and affect motivation — three factors that can impact your ability to effectively treat patients and make it through an extended shift. An article on the NIH's U.S. National Library of Medicine notes that dehydration can also impair your concentration and trigger headaches, including debilitating migraines.

To stay hydrated prior to and during your shift, it's best to avoid caffeine-laden or sugary drinks. Instead, stick with water. You can enhance the flavor with a slice of fresh fruit such as watermelon or lemon.

Tip: To create a good hydration habit while you're at work, drink a glass of water each time you take a bathroom break. You'll find yourself better able to tackle the day.

4. Make Time for Relaxation

Working extended shifts in an intense, fast-paced environment can be stressful. Scheduling time for relaxation is one way to combat the effects of stress so you're ready for your next 12-hour stint. According to Mayo Clinic, the health benefits of relaxation include improved concentration, reduced frustration levels, less fatigue and increased confidence.

Make use of days off to engage in activities you enjoy, whether that means taking long walks outdoors, spending time with friends or treating yourself to pampering at a local spa. If you're a travel nurse on assignment in an unfamiliar city, spend time exploring the area and taking advantage of regional activities and cuisine.

If time is an issue, you can still reap the benefits of relaxation prior to your shift by employing easy-to-learn techniques such as deep breathing, guided meditation, yoga and aromatherapy.

The Benefits of Preparation

Whether you're a travel nurse or have a full-time permanent position, preparing for nursing shifts can make it easier to get through extended days and improve how you feel about your job, your colleagues and your patients.

Look for your next 12-hour shift by searching AMN Healthcare's database of available jobs.

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