Working Long 12 Hour Nursing Shifts

One of the most important career management skills a nurse should learn early in professional life is that of self-preservation. Nurses counsel patients to rest, exercise and drink plenty of water but great advice is often easier to give than to put into practice in your own life.

Setting health preservation as part of your career development plan takes time and effort but can make a big difference in how you feel, especially during those long swing shifts.

Interlocking Pieces of the Puzzle

As a nurse you know movement is important for lifelong flexibility, stamina and clarity of mind. In order for the body to move properly, it needs to be hydrated and well-rested. Only you can find the balance needed to maintain health, especially when not all work settings are conducive to self-preservation.

Exercise needs to be a regular part of your time management practice. Some nurses find it easier to enroll in a gym plan and attend a variety of offerings such as yoga or Zumba.

Taking short walking breaks also will help you connect to your body and center yourself throughout the day. Although you likely do plenty of walking during work shifts, your mind often is on your patients’ care. Taking 10 minutes every few hours to walk outside can bring more long-term benefits than jolting your body into hyper-drive with an “energy” drink. Many newer hospitals have landscaped areas to help you clear your mind for a few minutes during a long shift.

Swallow Your Own Advice – Hydrate

As a first-year student you learned that the body is comprised of at least 60% water and that systems that support the immune functions need water to move toxins and molecules around the body.

If you had a dime for every time you told a patient to drink water, you’d be living in a mansion by now, right? So why is it so hard to swallow your own advice? One reason many nurses don’t drink enough water is that they are constantly on the go and hardly take enough time for bathroom and eating breaks, much less water breaks, which lead to more bathroom breaks.

Drinking water is essential for overall health and sipping throughout the day lessens bathroom trips. Bringing several filled reusable water bottles with you in a tote will help you stay hydrated. To mix it up a little, fill one bottle with a favorite herbal tea and one with a water-juice combination.

Write Yourself a Personal Sleep Prescription

Restorative sleep is a basic human need but nurses can have a hard time coming down off their amped-up energy level.

Take time to evaluate what you need to do to relax and detach from work stresses. Lowering light levels or playing white noise or soft music can help, as can taking a warm bath or reading about a favorite hobby.

Sleep experts agree that establishing a bedtime routine and removing cell phones, laptops and other technology from the bedroom is important, as is refraining from watching TV. The 30 minutes or so it generally takes people to unwind should be a quiet time.

One easy exercise to do right before you go to sleep is to close your eyes and picture three relaxing places like a beach, meadow and park bench. Then take three slow, deep breaths. Next set your mind on three things you are hearing such as traffic, a barking dog and your breathing. Then repeat the exercise with two scenes and two sounds; remember to take the relaxing breaths. For the last place you’re picturing, imagine sounds you would hear there.

Keep your breathing slow and deep and soon you will find yourself relaxing.

Relax, Refresh and Revitalize

There is no cure-all for the fatigue of long shifts and erratic schedules but establishing healthy routines will help you manage your own needs more effectively. As a result, you will be able to serve patients with your vital nursing skills and knowledge for years to come.

Be creative when examining your hydration, exercise and sleep schedule in seeking solutions to common problems. Being a nurse is one of the most important vocations and in order to bring good care to your patients you have to value your own care and find ways to nurture your sense of well-being.

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