Most adults work 8-hour days, but because nurses are superhuman we work 12-hour shifts. Working this long can seem daunting, but with a few tricks, you’ll be able power through your shift and be ready for another one the next day. Here are some suggestions to help you survive the long hours.
1. Put a snack in your pocket.
You may not always be able to take a break when you want to during your 12-hour shift. Emergencies or high patient censuses can cause you to have inconsistent break times. Instead of letting your energy plummet because you haven’t eaten in hours, try putting a snack in your pocket to munch on when you need to refuel. A small fruit and nut granola bar is the perfect size for your scrub pockets and easy to eat when you have a moment to spare.
2. Protect your body.
Being a nurse is extremely physically taxing. Protect your body, especially your back, when turning or getting a patient out of bed. Use good body mechanics or a mechanical lift if needed. Try taking some time before every shift to stretch and loosen any tight muscles to prepare your body for the long day ahead. If you do hurt yourself while at work, be sure to report it and get the help you need before the injury gets even worse.
3. Wear compression socks.
That’s right, compression socks aren’t just for your post-operative patients. Being on your feet for long periods of time puts you at a high risk for varicose veins, and wearing compression socks can help reduce that risk. Compression socks can also help reduce fatigue by improving blood flow and reducing lactic acid build up. If you find that your calves are sore and your ankles are swollen after working, you may want to try slipping on a pair of compression socks before your next shift. Your legs will thank you later!
4. Get off the unit during your breaks.
When you have a chance to take a break, really take advantage of it. Don’t eat your food at the nurses station. Getting away from your unit will help you relax more fully and enjoy your break. Give your work phone to another nurse. If you are answering phone calls and helping patients on your break, you will not be refreshed and ready to go when your break is over. Take your mind off of your patients by doing something during your break that you find relaxing, like reading a book or listening to music.
5. Invest in shoes that are right for your feet.
Some days you will be so busy that you could be on your feet for 12 hours straight. If you are wearing shoes that don’t fit properly, by the end of your shift your feet will ache and you could even have blisters. Go to an athletic shoe store to have your feet and stride analyzed by a professional who can advise on the best shoes for your feet. Don’t forget to replace your shoes every 6-9 months or when the tread wears down.
When you start your first nursing job, you will be paired with an experienced nurse, also known as a preceptor. Your preceptor will help you learn your unit’s policies and procedures as well as your nursing responsibilities. Here are a few ways to make the most of your nursing preceptor training experience:
1. Get to know your preceptor.
You will be spending many hours with your preceptor, so it is important to build a relationship with them. Ask them questions about their life, why they became a nurse, and what they enjoy most about their job. Communicate with them about what your learning style is and how they can help you succeed. Be honest about any areas where you tend to struggle or might need additional assistance with.
2. Be willing to learn.
Every minute you are on the unit with your preceptor is an opportunity to learn. Watch the way your preceptor interacts with patients and listen to the way they phrase questions. If you don’t understand something, don’t be afraid to ask about it. Knowing the “why” behind your unit’s practices will help you remember them.
3. Strive to overcome differences.
You may find that you have a different personality than your preceptor. Your preceptor might be outgoing, while you might tend to be reserved and shy. This can cause a strain on your relationship, but it doesn’t mean that the relationship is doomed for failure. Try observing the way that your preceptor’s personality influences the way that they interact with patients and see if you can incorporate their positive qualities into your nursing care.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask your preceptor for help.
It’s okay to admit that you don’t know something. Remember that you are in training and you are not expected to know everything. It is far better to admit that you don’t know something than to endanger your patient’s life to maintain your pride. If you are not 100% sure about what you’re doing, ask your preceptor for help. If you are feeling overwhelmed, let your preceptor know that you need assistance.
5. Debrief with your preceptor after each shift.
It is helpful to sit down with your preceptor after each shift to discuss what went well and what you need to work on. Taking time to reflect on your strengths will build confidence and reflecting on your weaknesses will help you grow. If your preceptor does not have time to sit down and have a discussion, try writing down a reflection of your day and have your preceptor give feedback on what you wrote.
Most nurses at some point in their career will have to work night shift. The grueling hours can take their toll on your body and your life, so it is important to focus on taking care of yourself. Here are a few suggestions for how you can be healthier (and happier) while working night shift:
1. Find a sleep schedule that works for you.
It is important to find a sleep schedule that works for you while working night shift. Some people can switch back and forth between day shift and night shift simply by taking long naps the day before they work (e.g., sleep 10 pm – 6 am and nap 3 pm – 5 pm). If you find you are unable to take naps, try sleeping in late the morning before you work (e.g., sleep 2 am – 10 am). You may also find that your body functions better with only a partial switch in your sleep schedule, so that you stay up later at night and sleep later in the day, even on your days off (e.g., sleep 4 am – 12 pm on your days off).
2. Drink caffeinated beverages (in moderation).
Many night shift workers are dependent on caffeine for survival. If you are someone who relies on caffeine to stay awake during your shift, be sure to stay away from energy drinks that are loaded with sugar and large amounts of caffeine. Instead, drink coffee or tea. Remember to stop drinking caffeinated beverages around 2 am to avoid being unable to sleep later in the morning.
3. Fuel your body with healthy foods.
It may be tempting to binge on sugary foods to feel energized, but these foods will cause your blood sugar to crash and your stomach to rumble shortly afterward. Fill your lunch box with high protein foods that will help you stay full longer, and fruits and veggies that will help your body feel refreshed instead of sluggish. Try packing items like apples with peanut butter, salad with fruit and nut toppings, or a brown rice veggie bowl.
4. Practice good sleep hygiene.
One of the most difficult parts about working night shift is having to sleep during the day. By practicing good sleep hygiene, you will be able to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Try investing in a good set of blackout curtains and earplugs to simulate the quiet darkness of nighttime. Avoid watching TV or looking at your phone before you sleep, and be sure to turn your phone to silent mode to avoid notifications that will wake you up. Before you crawl into bed, take some time to unwind and relax by stretching, reading, or meditating; this will help signal your body that it is time for sleep.
5. Stay hydrated.
Staying hydrated throughout your night shift will help your mind stay alert and your body feel energized. Your body is made of over 60% water, and water fuels almost every bodily function. The average woman should drink approximately 2.7 liters of water, and the average man should drink 3.7 liters of water per day. If you’re not a fan of plain water, try adding slices of fruit to your water for some extra flavor.
6. Seek professional help if needed.
Some people experience headaches, insomnia, and nausea while working night shift. Give your body a month or so to adjust to your new lifestyle, and if you continue to struggle, talk with your doctor. A doctor may be able to advise you on how to treat and manage your symptoms.
Working as a nurse is a rewarding but sometimes grueling job. After 12 hours of trying to keep your patients happy (and alive), you are both physically and mentally exhausted. If you don’t take the time to de-stress after work, you may find yourself unable to relax and go to sleep. In the long run, you could experience burnout or even health complications due to stress.
Here are five ways that you can unwind after a long day of work:
Meditating can be a great way to clear your mind after work. If you’ve never meditated before, try closing your eyes and taking 5 deep breaths, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Focus on each breath and how it feels entering and leaving your body. Imagine that with every exhale, you are releasing all of the stress and tension in your body, and with every inhale, you are feeling more and more relaxed.
Let your pen do the talking after a stressful day at work. It doesn’t matter what you write about, just start writing and let your mind and your pen wander. You may find yourself making a list, writing random thoughts, or describing your day. Focusing your hands on a simple task will help your mind and body to relax. If you’re not into writing, try coloring or doodling.
3. Pamper yourself.
Channel your inner diva and take some time to pamper yourself. You deserve it! Apply a face mask, soak in a bubble bath, or maybe even splurge on a massage. If spa time isn’t your thing, go out to dinner at a fancy restaurant or stay in and rent a movie. However you decide to pamper yourself, make sure you thoroughly enjoy it and soak up every minute of your self-care time.
Exercising is a great way to burn off (literally) your frustrations and de-stress after a day at work. It doesn’t matter what type of exercise you do, as long as it is something you enjoy. While you are working out your body, your mind will be processing the events and emotions of the day. By the time you are finished with your workout, your mind will feel clear and ready to take on the rest of the day.
5. Talk to someone.
Sometimes the most valuable thing you can do for yourself after a difficult day is to talk about it. It may seem counterintuitive to relive the events that caused you stress, but it will actually help you process your emotions and relieve the tension that you are feeling. Find someone who is a good listener who will simply be there for you while you vent. After you are finished discussing your day, don’t think about it anymore!
My name is Sarah and I have been a postpartum nurse for about a year. I work on a 36-bed labor, delivery, recovery, and postpartum unit in the Seattle area. We take care of a variety of postpartum patients and babies on our unit, and see gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, small- and large-for-gestational-age babies, late pre-term babies, etc. I work three 12-hour shifts per week, and I am currently working night shift.
Typically, I have three to four couplets each night, all needing vital signs, assessments, medications, 24-hour newborn screenings and much more. I am lucky enough to work at a baby-friendly hospital where we encourage breastfeeding, so I spend about 30% of my time as a postpartum nurse educating and assisting my patients with breastfeeding. The rest of my time is spent delivering hands on nursing care (about 40%) and charting (about 30%).
It would be nearly impossible to write about the many things I do during my 12-hour shift, but I will try to describe a typical day as a postpartum nurse:
17:00: My alarm goes off. I snooze for another 15 minutes while I cuddle with my cat.
17:30: Shower time. Once I am squeaky clean, I eat a bagel and cream cheese and drink my English breakfast tea. I always make time to sit down and eat before I go to work so that I can fuel my body and mind.
18:10: I braid my hair, do my makeup, and put on my scrubs.
18:45: I say goodbye to my cat and she meows in protest. I head to my car and listen to NPR during my 10 minute drive to the hospital.
19:00: I clock in, grab a work phone, drop off my bags in my locker, fill my pockets with my essential nursing supplies, and sit in the break room to hear the unit’s announcements and safety concerns.
19:10: Out on the floor I am greeted by the day shift nurses, who are extremely happy to see the night shift nurses. I have been assigned three couplets tonight. Two are vaginal deliveries and one is a caesarean section. One of them is an experienced mom, and the other two are first-time moms. All have chosen to breastfeed their babies (yay!).
19:15: I find the day shift nurse who has my patients and we go into their rooms to get SBAR report, introduce me to the patients, and write my work phone number on their white boards. As I congratulate each set of parents and ask about their baby’s name, I scan the room and patient to make sure all my emergency supplies are available, tubes and drains are functioning properly, and the bed and bassinet are locked and safe.
19:40: After getting report, I sit down at a computer to gather additional information on my patients and plan my night. For each patient, I look at their history, orders, medications, and labs, and chart a Braden skin assessment and Morse fall scale. I plan out when vital signs, medications, and other tasks need to be done during the night.
20:15: Feeling organized and ready to take on the night, I visit each of my patients to tell them their plan of care. While I’m in the room, I restock supplies, take out trash or dirty linens, and tidy up the room.
20:30: I get a call from one of the dads. Baby pooped for the first time and they need help with the diaper change. I enter the room to find a screaming baby and panicked dad. Dad hands me the baby and I proceed to change the diaper while I educate the parents on diaper basics. The parents look at me with wide eyes as they see the sticky black meconium. I reassure them that this is completely normal as I swaddle baby and hand him to dad.
21:00: It’s time to do the first set of vital signs on my cesarean section patient and her baby. I get blood pressure, temperature, and do a full assessment on mom. Her belly is distended from the c/s and she hasn’t passed gas yet, so I talk with her about taking a medication to help relieve the gas and other alternative therapies she can try. She agrees to take the medication and try walking the halls, so I grab the gas pill, simethicone, as well as her Advil and Tylenol that are due. I assess her pain and give her the medications. I then listen to baby’s heart and lungs and do a full assessment. Baby has a wet diaper, so I quickly change it and swaddle him.
21:30: Spotting my charge nurse in the hall, I stop to give her an update on my patients and ask a few questions. She tells me there are cookies in the break room from a thankful patient, so I make a mental note to grab one later in the night.
22:00: I take my 15-minute break and scarf down an apple with peanut butter, pretzels, and cheese. I drink some jasmine green tea on my way back to the unit.
23:00: More vitals and medication administration. While in one of the rooms, I notice that baby has managed to wiggle out of his swaddle, so I wrap him up and spend a few minutes cuddling and cooing at him until mom has returned from the bathroom.
00:00: I get a phone call from one of my dads and he expresses concern about baby being fussy. I go into the room to see if I can help soothe baby. I educate the parents about the many reasons baby might be crying: hunger, wet/poopy diaper, wanting to be held, etc. The parents soak up the information like a sponge and begin to discuss what baby might want. They decide that baby needs to be re-swaddled and might want to be held. I watch and give feedback as mom swaddles the baby. It takes her two tries, but she is thrilled to have done it by herself.
01:00: It is time for the 24-hour screening, so the tech and I gather our supplies and head into the patient’s room. The baby is sleeping, so we take advantage of the quiet time to do the CCHD heart screening and jaundice check. Baby passes the CCHD test, but the jaundice level is higher than average. I explain to the parents that while I do the metabolic screening, I will also be gathering a small tube of baby’s blood to test the serum bilirubin level. The parents are asking questions about why baby’s bilirubin is higher, so I sit down to explain and educate them about newborn jaundice. While I’m discussing this with the parents, the tech is weighing baby and warming baby’s foot for the heel poke. Once the baby’s foot is warmed up, the tech holds the baby in her arms while I clean, poke, and gather blood from the heel. The baby doesn’t cry during the whole procedure and the parents proudly state that they have a brave baby.
01:30: I run the bilirubin test to the lab. I then get a phone call. One of the moms is having difficulty feeding her sleepy baby and she would like me to come help.
01:40: I enter the patient’s room and baby is sound asleep on mom’s chest. It has been almost three hours since baby’s last feeding, so I pick up baby to try to wake him. As soon as I change the diaper, baby is awake and crying…success! I help mom with her positioning of the baby and latching. It takes several tries to get baby on the breast, but after about 15 minutes, we are finally able to get him actively sucking. Mom is so excited and profusely thanks me for helping. I leave the room feeling accomplished and sweaty. Helping with breastfeeding is one of the more physically taxing parts of my job.
02:30: I sit down at the computer to do some charting and look at the baby’s bilirubin lab result. While chugging my water I see that the baby’s bilirubin level came back normal. I go tell the parents and they are noticeably relieved.
03:00: Break time! I grab a warm blanket and settle into one of the large lounge chairs in the break area. I typically try to eat healthy while I am at work to avoid feeling sluggish. Today, I have a salad with a variety of exciting toppings, rice cakes, and a La Croix sparkling water. I watch TV on my phone as I munch on my food. During the last 15 minutes of my break, I lay my blanket on the floor and do some stretching while I drink peppermint green tea.
04:00: Feeling refreshed and ready for the last few hours of my shift, I head back to the unit. I give pain medications to a patient, grab a set of vital signs on another, and help with a breastfeeding.
04:30: I get my cesarean section patient up to the bathroom with the help of my tech. While I am in the bathroom with my patient helping her with peri care and Foley catheter removal, the tech is changing the bed linens. The patient stands up from the toilet and says she is feeling dizzy, so we quickly escort her back to bed to relax. She hasn’t slept in over 24 hours, so I encourage her to get a quick nap in before the next breastfeeding.
05:00: I check in on one of my patients I haven’t heard from in a few hours. She is resting in bed with baby skin-to-skin on her chest, and she excitedly tells me she was able to get baby to latch all by herself. I congratulate her and chart about the breastfeeding and a poopy diaper.
06:00: A worried grandmother comes out in the hall seeking help for her daughter’s baby who is spitting up. I hurry into the room and help baby work up the amniotic fluid. I educate the parents on how I helped baby, clean baby up, and put the baby skin-to-skin on dad’s chest.
06:30: My tummy grumbles and I remember about the cookies. I sneak into the break room hoping there are still some left. I snag the last one and hungrily snack on it as I review my charting for the night.
07:10: Feeling a bit delirious, I give report to the day shift nurses. I say goodbye to each of my patients and introduce them to their new nurse. One of my patients gives me a big hug and expresses how much I helped her survive the night. My heart swells as I walk out of the room thinking, “This is what makes it all worth it.”
07:35: I clock out, feeling excited and relieved to have survived another shift.
07:45: Finally home. I am greeted at the door by my very-happy-to-see-me cat. I quickly shower, put on my PJs, turn on relaxing music, and read my book while I snack on nuts and berries.
08:50: Snuggled in bed, I set my alarm for 17:00 and get some much-needed rest so I can wake up and do it all over again!