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.

Sarah Cruzan, BSN, RN

Sarah Cruzan is a nurse on a Family Maternity Unit.

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