How to Survive 12-Hour Nursing Shifts: Helpful Tips

Surviving 12-hour nursing shifts is not an easy feat. Many nurses prefer a 12-hour shift schedule because of the flexibility. Fewer shifts per week allow for more days away from work. However, other nurses feel the long days leave them exhausted, burned out, and in fear of making errors. 

The lengths of nursing shifts is a highly debated topic. Nurses work 12-hour shifts because hospitals, facilities, and organizations perceive that 12-hour shifts drive efficiency. With less hand-overs and overlap between shifts, scheduling is easier and patients have fewer new faces entering their rooms.

A survey revealed that nurses who work 12-hour shifts were more likely to suffer from burnout. The 12-hour shifts can take a physical and mental toll, affecting nurses’ well-being and the safety of patients. Problems especially arise when nurses are working 12-hour shifts with an understaffed team. 

With this guide of helpful tips you’ll be able to get through a 12-hour nursing shift better than you think! 

10 Helpful Tips to Survive 12-Hour Nursing Shifts

Get Proper Sleep

Staying awake for 12-hour nursing shifts is difficult, so adequate sleep and rest is crucial. Sleep deprivation can have a negative impact on both nurses’ health and performance.

To recover between shifts as well as remain alert and focused on the clock, quantity and quality of sleep matters. Be consistent with your bedtime and stick to a routine for your sleep schedule that allows for 7 to 9 hours of sleep.

Prepare for Your Shift Beforehand

Get ready for your shift the day prior. You don’t want to be rushing to get out the door and ultimately end up arriving late or forgetting items.

Here are a few ways to prepare for your shift.

  • Lay out your scrubs with an extra set if needed, plus your shoes and a jacket
  • Pack your lunch and snacks
  • Plan your travel route and consider rush hour or traffic delays
  • Place items in your nurse bag like your badge, pens, stethoscope, watch, keys, and water bottle
  • Fill up your gas tank

Wake up early enough to eat breakfast and give yourself time to get ready so that you’re arriving to your shift in a calm and timely manner.

Stay Nourished and Hydrated

One of the most underrated ways to survive a 12-hour nursing shift is to fuel your body well. Running through a shift on an empty stomach or without substantial food can wear you down quickly. Meals that provide long-lasting energy make a big difference. Packing meals also saves money in the long run!

When breaks might be inconsistent and inconvenient at times, keep snacks handy. Bring foods easy to grab like cheese sticks, yogurt cups, and trail mix.

Drinking enough water throughout your 12-hour nursing shift avoids dehydration which can lead to fatigue, headaches, and inability to focus. Track your water intake with an app or by marking lines on your water bottle. Add minerals and electrolytes too.

Be mindful of your caffeine intake. While caffeine is helpful at times, over-caffeinating can lead to crashing early, jumpiness, or sleep problems. 

Wear Supportive Shoes

Nurses are known to walk miles during each 12-hour shift. This can really cause your feet and joints to suffer from standing on hard floors for long periods of time. Nurses can wear the treads on their shoes in as little as 6 to 9 months. 

Investing in the right footwear to prevent aching feet is worth it! Look for shoes that are comfortable, supportive, and lightweight.

Compression socks are an option too to promote healthy blood flow and circulation. 

Plan Out Your Shift and Manage Your Time

Once you’re on the clock for your 12-hour nursing shift, staying on top of your game is key. There are many moving parts once you walk onto the floor, so be organized with a system in place for a smooth shift.

Plan out what your shift will look like, identify responsibilities, and track tasks with checklists. Filling your cart with enough supplies, having basic items handy, getting your meds ready, and charting throughout your shift all save time.

Group tasks together, prioritize, set reminders or alarms when needed, and communicate with team members ahead of time to avoid losing time with miscommunication.

Remain flexible because change of plans is part of the job! Roll with it and jump back into your checklist when you can.

Be a Team Player

Being a team player makes a 12-hour shift more successful for everyone involved. Offer to help coworkers when you can. Whether it’s restocking supplies or checking in on individuals who look behind, lending a hand builds rapport and creates a better flow.

Treating other positions respectfully creates trust and cooperation. Others will gladly return the favor for you next time!

Take Your Breaks

Do you ever catch yourself spending your break working, catching up, or just scrolling on your phone? Multitasking on your breaks doesn’t allow you to regroup, clear your mind, or catch a breather. 

Try to step away from the nurses station or floor and find some quiet space. Even getting out of the breakroom and going to sit on a bench outside to eat your lunch does wonders!

Sometimes shifts are so busy there seems to be no opportunity for a quick rest. Advocate for your breaks! You’ll be a better nurse and support your patients better too.

Keep Your Body Safe and Healthy

With a physically taxing job, it’s important to utilize proper body mechanics and resources like mechanical lifts to save your back. Stretching for a few minutes a day helps to keep your joints and muscles loose and flexible. 

Don’t risk your body or safety to get a job done faster. Ask for help or take the time to properly perform a job to avoid hurting yourself.

Putting your health first will help you survive 12-hour nursing shifts. Support your immune system and keep your strength up with movement and exercise. 

Have a Positive Mindset

It’s easy to fall into negative thinking when 12-hour shifts can feel long and hard. Think about what you gain by working 12-hour shifts. Nurses who work full-time hours often enjoy 3 days on and 4 days off. There’s less travel time, more room for flexibility or longer chunks of time off when you book shifts accordingly, and work-life balance is possible with more opportunity for time outside of shifts.

Focusing on the positive during your shift helps to make the time go by faster, boosts morale with coworkers and patients, and changes the way you view your shift all around!

Make the Most of Your Days Off

Surviving a 12-hour nursing shift is a lot to handle. Do your best not to have anything else strenuous planned before or after your shift. Your days off can be for chores, appointments, rest, social activities, and spending time with family and friends. 

Often, having a life you enjoy outside of work helps to make work more manageable and less of a burden. Work isn’t so bad when you fill your cup in other areas by scheduling or making time for things to look forward to outside of your shift.

These tips for getting through a 12-hour shift as a nurse will help you go from surviving each shift to managing them with ease, and even enjoying them!

If you’re interested in being able to have more freedom and flexibility in your career, check out the nurseIO app. RNs, LPNs, CNAs, and other healthcare positions can browse and accept per diem shifts at local facilities. Only work when and where you want, and get instant same-day pay!

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