5 Tips to Getting Through Long Nursing Shifts

NursingDecember 22, 2016

Nursing has always been a career that requires dedication, patience, and stamina, but these days many institutions are opting for 12-hour nursing shifts. While working longer hours can be challenging, many experienced nurses like the new paradigm. Once you are there and in the swing of things, it is actually easier to keep going than to stop after eight hours and do it all over again the next day, for five or more days in a row.

If you are considering a job in nursing, you can probably expect to face this challenge at some point in your career. So what are some strategies for getting through long shifts and living to tell the tale? Experienced nurses have some sage advice:


Forget about fashion. You will be spending a lot of time on your feet and doing a lot of running back and forth throughout the course of a shift. Of course, some services are busier than others, but no matter what unit you are assigned to chances are you will not be spending lots of time lounging around. That’s why sturdy, sensible footwear with good traction and plenty of cushioning is essential, and no open-toe designs; they pose an occupational hazard to nurses who must work with sharps and other potential biohazards.


Do your best to get adequate sleep before you report for work. Research indicates that most adults require seven to nine hours of shut-eye every 24 hours to maintain optimal health and greet each new day with clear-headed energy. Do not make the mistake of believing you can shortchange sleep. Many Americans are sleep deprived and their lack of sleep is believed to contribute to significant job productivity losses as well as playing a role in avoidable accidents in the workplace and on the roads. Sleep deprivation is potentially dangerous for you and your patients.  

You will not have much opportunity to catch your breath while on the job, but it is highly recommended that you take advantage of breaks. For mental and emotional relief, it is best to leave the floor or the unit. While it may be tempting to slump in a chair and take a quick nap, you may actually feel better if you get out and take a brief walk in the fresh air.

Eating Right

Taking healthful snacks to work is an important strategy for getting through long shifts. A healthy diet in general also helps. The Mediterranean diet is among the most healthful on the planet. Try to follow this eating plan for optimal body weight and overall health. Note that it features relatively little meat, but plenty of fish. On your meal break, try to avoid eating too much. Digesting a high-calorie meal will inevitably sap your energy. On the other hand, it is ludicrous to imagine you can power through a demanding shift without refueling properly along the way. Think complete, balanced nutrition, and occasional snacks.

Avoid sugary snacks, drinks, and just about anything available in hospital vending machines. Most such snacks are loaded with simple carbohydrates that cause your blood sugar levels to surge and then crash. Choose complex carbohydrates or protein-heavy snacks, instead. Think whole grains, hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, deli turkey slices, or fresh fruits and vegetables. Of course, hydration is crucial, too. Drink plenty of water, tea, or coffee, and avoid adding sugar. Again, those empty calories may give you a quick energy surge, but they’ll leave you feeling even more depleted all too soon.

Focus On Work, Not the Clock

Veterans say it is best not to keep an eye on the clock while working. By focusing on the tasks at hand, the time goes by much more quickly.  If the workload lightens, try to look for tasks to keep you busy. You will endear yourself to supervisors and co-workers, and the time will pass more quickly for you. Another bit of advice, especially for novices: take special care during your final four hours if you haven’t been particularly busy. That’s when you are more likely to make mistakes.

Quick Refreshers

Some nurses recommend taking the time to brush teeth, splash water on one’s face, chew some gum, or otherwise freshen up from time to time. Take a moment to practice some deep breathing if possible. It can be surprisingly restorative and calming. Also, avoid putting off necessary bathroom breaks. Working with a full bladder can increase your chances of developing a urinary tract infection.