The 9-to-5 world doesn’t exist when you’re a nurse. You’re pulling 12-hour shifts and likely working for multiple days or nights in a row, just to have a few days off and then do it all over again.
So, how do you prepare and get used to such a strenuous schedule? Read on and we’ll share the tips that could make your shifts (you know, the ones that feel like they are never going to end?) seem a little easier.
Tip #1: Eat a well-balanced diet.
The better you eat, the better you’ll feel. That’s why we recommend bringing your breakfast, lunch, or dinner rather than trying to pick up something at the hospital or nearby.
- Bring healthy food that you’re excited to eat. Try fun and healthy recipes like overnight oats with peanut butter and honey or pre-cut veggies with a hummus dip.
- Bring enough food to satisfy your cravings. The last thing you want to do is head to the vending machine because you’re hungry.
- No matter what your shift, eat a meal before you leave home. That way if you miss your first break, you won’t be starving.
Tip #2: Stay hydrated – at work and at home.
Remembering to drink enough water is tough, especially when you’re in the middle of a busy shift. But staying hydrated is important. Not only does it help flush your body of any toxins, it helps you avoid that dehydration headache.
- Calculate how much water you should drink daily. Divide your weight by two to get the number of ounces. For example, if you weigh 140 lbs., you should drink 70 ounces of water a day.
- Invest in a big water bottle and set a goal to refill it every few hours.
- If your hospital allows it, keep the water bottle by the nurse’s station or somewhere you pass frequently. If not, make a plan for how you will access it.
- Keep up the routine at home as well as work until drinking water becomes a habit.
Tip #3: Make sleep a priority so that you get enough.
Adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Getting enough sleep will allow you to function at your best when you’re at work.
- Set yourself up for success. Stick to the same sleep schedule every day, including your days off.
- Choose a relaxing routine that makes it easier to fall asleep. Disconnect from your phone and electronics a half an hour or more before bedtime. Read or enjoy a warm bath. Make sure you have a comfortable mattress.
- Skip the caffeine if you’re planning to sleep in the next 6-7 hours.
- Use a sleep mask to block daylight.
- If you’re working the night shift and you’re having trouble staying awake, try a coffee nap. Drink a cup of coffee, then immediately nap for 20 minutes. You should wake up refreshed.
Tip #4: Plan your wardrobe so you are dressed comfortably.
What you wear does matter for a 12-hour shift. Choosing comfort as well as style will help you feel your best.
- Set your clothes out the night before. Include a jacket or sweater because chances are, the climate in the hospital is cold.
- Choose scrubs that are comfortable and shoes that are easy to stand and walk-in.
- Many nurses wear compression socks to help prevent lower leg swelling, an occupational hazard for nurses who are constantly on their feet.
Tip #5: Make a list so you don’t forget anything.
Even if it’s something you bring every shift, there will be times when you might forget it. Making a list takes the pressure off so that you don’t have to remember everything.
- Keep a list of the essentials and put it by the front door or by your bag.
- Your list may include your ID badge, keys, phone and charger, water bottle, stethoscope, extra scrubs, and hand lotion to counteract the effect of those alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
Tip #6: Schedule out your days to easily fit in errands and activities.
When you work for three straight days, it’s as if you’re on permanent hold. Stores are generally closed after work making it hard to run errands or do banking. Your friends also don’t share your unusual schedule. It’s a bit challenging, but you can make it work.
- Take advantage of 24/7 banking, call centers, and other options to reach out as needed.
- Schedule social outings on your days off; trying to do so on a workday will just create additional stress. Use the chance to meet a friend with a traditional schedule for lunch during his or her workday and your day off.
- Schedule in time to do what is important to you, including exercise and spending time with loved ones.
Tip #7: BUT – Don’t overschedule yourself.
It’s tempting to pack in as much as possible on your days off or your days at work. Keep your schedule manageable with enough downtime to feel good.
- Think before picking up extra shifts at work. Do you really want to do this?
- Pause before agreeing to social plans. There are only 24 hours in a day and sometimes those plans can wait.
Tip #8. And lastly, practice self-care (you deserve it).
Nurses are always looking out and helping others, but as a nurse, you need to remember to protect your well-being, too. You’ll want to focus on self-care.
- Schedule time to relax, meditate or pursue a hobby you enjoy.
- Take steps to manage your stress at home and at work.
- Keep work and home separate. Worrying about your patients is natural but not productive for your mental well-being at home.
- Remember to exercise. Take the stairs instead of the elevator at work. Park further away for a long walk to your car. Combine social time with exercise and work out with a friend on your days off.
- Surround yourself with positive people. Practice gratitude and you’ll find plenty to appreciate in your life.
- Finally, working long hours can lead to loneliness, anxiety, and depression. If you’re unable to concentrate, have negative self-talk, or are not feeling your best, consult your primary care provider. In order to help others, you need to make sure to help yourself.
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