How Nurses Can Prepare For A Twelve Hour Shift
There are many things that anyone thinking of becoming a nurse needs to be aware of. Although we won’t go into all of them here, one that you will need to think about carefully is shift work. Whether you’ve never done it before or you’re an expert in working shifts, there are plenty of things to know to make your working life much easier. Working shifts – and as a nurse, those shifts will often be 12 or more hours long – isn’t great for your physical or mental health if you don’t plan things out in advance, so in order to stay healthy and makeshift work a more pleasant experience, here are some ways you can prepare.
Sleep Before Your Shift
One of the best things you can do when you have shift work to deal with is to sleep. The first thing to consider is that you have to make sure you sleep before your shift, no matter when that shift might be. Sleeping before a night shift is probably what will come to mind first, and that is crucial, of course, but in fact, sleeping before any kind of shift is important, whether that is a night shift, day shift, or anything in between.
Without sleep, not only are you going to be less productive, but you will also potentially be putting patients’ lives at risk; at the very least, they won’t get the care they need and deserve if you are sleep-deprived.
If you can make sure you sleep before your shift, you’ll be much more energetic and able to be a much better job, which will help you, your patients, and your colleagues. When you are a nurse, there are a lot of physical and mental strains to deal with, and sleep allows you to heal and recover from those before you go back to it – sleep is crucial.
It’s not just when you sleep, but how you sleep as well, or rather, how much you sleep. It’s important to ensure you make time to get enough sleep. Remember, you might think you’ll be able to ‘catch up’ on your sleep the next time you get into bed, but there is no guarantee that will happen, especially if an emergency situation arises. Put together a good bedtime routine that ensures you get enough sleep before each shift. It’s worth considering your work-life balance at the same time, as you don’t want to miss out on that front. Use your scheduling well, and you can do almost everything, although there might be some compromises when you’re in the middle of your shifts.
Prepare Your Clothes The Day Before
Many of these tips about preparing for working shifts as a nurse might seem incredibly simple, and the fact is, many of them are. However, remembering to put the actions in place is something else, and when you’re tired and just want to go to bed, things can be missed. That’s why it’s important to have a checklist to go through to ensure you have everything ready.
Your clothes are a great example. Although you might just assume you can find all your clothes when you need them before your shift, that might not be the case. Searching for specific items of clothing (nurses need to wear uniforms, so you’ll have to have certain items and can’t wear your ‘home clothes’) before your shift wastes time and causes stress, which will often mean the rest of the day is spent in a state of agitation.
Therefore, the wisest course of action is to get everything ready before you go to sleep. You’ll have peace of mind knowing your clothes are clean and ironed, that you have everything where you need it – including underwear – and that when you get out of bed, you can have a shower or wash and get dressed without having to worry about anything. It’s a very small action that has far-reaching consequences and will improve your ability to enjoy shift work immensely.
Make Sure You Have Food
Food is at once one of the most important elements of shift work and the easiest to forget or decide to go without. After all, if you are tired enough, your body will take over and make you sleep, and getting into the habit of putting your clothes out in advance is something that you’ll quickly get used to and see the benefits of. Yet if you’re hungry, it’s easy to ignore the hunger pangs and tell yourself you’ll deal with it later. This is not a good idea, although we do understand that, when you’re a nurse, it can sometimes be hard to have regular breaks and get enough time for a full lunch. This is why eating before your shift is so vital.
Beginning your day with a good breakfast (even if it’s nighttime, we will still call it breakfast for ease of understanding – in other words, it’s the first meal of your day) will set you up to be much more energetic and productive. You’ll feel better, react more quickly, and you’ll be able to go longer before you have to eat again, or at least before you start feeling hungry and the symptoms of hunger start to plague you. The reason for this is that if you eat soon after waking up, your metabolism gets to work much faster. This helps to maintain your health and your weight. If you can’t eat right away, make sure you at least have a glass of water (you can leave this by your bed, so it’s ready for you in the morning) as this will have a similar effect, although you must also eat a healthy breakfast to really feel the benefits.
When it comes to food, although your breakfast is important, it’s certainly not the only food you should be eating throughout the day. It’s a great start, but you’ll also ideally have snacks prepared (pieces of fruit are quick and easy and can be eaten on the go if need be) and a healthy lunch for the middle of your shift. It’s best to make this at home, as it will be much cheaper.
You’ll also need to eat after your shift. Again, eating at home is best when it comes to money, and preparing your own food is best when it comes to health. Sometimes there won’t be a lot of time before your next shift, or you might just be exhausted and not feel like cooking. If you can batch cook when you do have time, you’ll always have something quick and tasty to eat, no matter what time you have or how you’re feeling.
Just make sure that no matter how busy you are, you always manage to have some form of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Skipping meals is bad for you and will make you sick if you do it long-term. When you’re working shifts, this is even more important as your body has to continue to be fueled to ensure you do a good job.
We’ve mentioned earlier how drinking a glass of water when you wake up is a good idea, but the truth is that this one glass is not enough – you need to keep yourself hydrated throughout the day to ensure you are healthy and able to continue to work your shifts, no matter how long they might be.
Ideally, you should have a large reusable water bottle that you can sip on through the day and keep filled so that you always have something to drink. Only drinking when you feel thirsty and then gulping down a glass or two of water is not ideal; by the time you feel thirst, you are already somewhat dehydrated, as this is one of the later symptoms. By constantly sipping on water, you’ll never reach that stage, and you’ll stay much healthier, both physically and mentally.
No matter how rewarding you find nursing to be (and it is one of the most rewarding careers available in many people’s eyes), and no matter how much you enjoy the work, there is no denying that shift work – particularly the long shifts that nurses have to do, which are very physically and mentally exhausting – is hard. One of the best things to remember, and something that will help you when you get tired, is that everyone you are working with is going through the same thing and feeling the same way.
Because of this, it’s good to make it a practice that, when you arrive at work, you find those who have been there the longest and whose shift is almost over and take some of their workload from them. Making the end of their shift easier will help them wind down even before they go home, ensuring that the transition between shifts or into their off days is much smoother. On top of this, when you help them, they will go on to help others, perhaps even you, when it’s their turn to come to work again. If everyone can do this, shifts will be a lot easier to deal with.