Whether you have worked on the ward for many years or are beginning your career as a locum nurse, even completing your placement year, tackling your first 12 hour shift can be somewhat daunting. It is important to make sure that, while your primary focus will be on caring for patients, you also take time to care for yourself. Twelve hour shifts can put your body under immense pressure, and it will take time for your body to get used to the change in routine.

With this in mind, having many years of experience filling nursing positions, we have picked up a number of helpful tips that we share with our candidates. We’ve compiled these in this article to create a comprehensive guide for those working 12 hour nursing shifts.

How To Get Through A 12 Hour Nursing Shift

There are several different benefits of opting to take on 12 hour shifts, as opposed to the regular 8 hours, the first of which is fewer handovers. When working on a unit that has a frequent turnover of staff throughout the day, it can prove tricky to stay organised with reporting and communication. There will be a constant relay of information from one nurse to another, increasing the likelihood of miscommunication. Working with the same group of professionals, on the other hand, means that everyone will remain organised with their tasks.

Another key advantage of working longer shifts is that it often becomes easier to maintain a steady work-life balance. 12 hour shifts are likely to be scheduled in 3-day segments with a 4-day weekend to follow. This will allow nurses extra days off to spend time with their family, enjoy their favourite hobby or even pursue further education in an area they have a particular interest in.

Although often seen as tedious, 12 hour shifts are actually a fantastic way to advance in your nursing career. Whether you are approaching your first longer shift or are experienced yet hoping for some fresh advice, our ten tips for working 12 hour shifts are guaranteed to make working on the ward more manageable.


1. Prepare Your Uniform The Night Before

Preparing your uniform the night before is a super easy lifestyle change to adopt and ideal for helping your day to start stress-free.

The night before your shift, make sure that your uniform is washed, dried and ironed. You can then hang it up, ready to pop on the following morning. In doing this, you can avoid any last-minute panics right before you’re due to leave. It will give you just that little extra time to make a nutritious breakfast, watch the news or simply relax with a cup of tea. A morning free from hassle is the perfect way to begin your shift in a positive, productive mood.

Scrubs Hanging Up

2. Bring Plenty Of Food

Working in a hospital means that you may not always get to take your breaks when you had hoped. If an emergency begins to unfold, naturally, this will need to be seen to before you head off for your break. Due to this, we strongly recommend keeping plenty of nutritious snacks handy. This means that if your break has been rescheduled, you can quickly refuel before your energy levels begin to plummet. When choosing snacks, aim to go for those that will provide slow-releasing energy instead of a quick sugar fix. Bananas are an excellent source of energy, along with granola bars and nuts. More information on snacks for nurses on the go can be found on Daily Nurse.

When it comes to your lunch break itself, we recommend avoiding heavy, greasy foods since these can negatively impact your energy levels. There are so many delicious, nutritious and energy-rich options that can be prepared ahead of time and taken with you to your shift. The Nerdy Nurse has put together a list of 20 easy lunch ideas, from BBQ chicken salad to lemon pesto pasta.

Granola Bars

3. Stay Hydrated

Staying hydrated is vital in not only keeping you alert but also ensuring that you stay healthy. Dehydration can have a detrimental impact on the body, causing you to feel lightheaded, tired and nauseous – the last thing you need during a 12 hour shift!

Not everyone naturally drinks their daily intake of water, and many have to force themselves to stay hydrated. Luckily, there are a number of different ways that you can get into the routine of drinking water, including the following:

  • Use An App: Most nurses keep their phones in their pockets during their shifts, which means downloading a hydration app would be ideal. Daily Water is a great app which not only allows you to track your intake but will also send regular reminders.
  • Marked Water Bottles: Seeing your progress is a fantastic way to keep you motivated. Water bottles that are marked with the hours of the day allow you to keep track of how far you are towards meeting your goal. Marked water bottles can be picked up from Aqua Tracker for less than £10.
  • Herbal Tea: Many avoid drinking water merely down to the fact that they are not keen on the taste. If this is the case for you, experimenting with herbal teas is a great way to encourage yourself to stay hydrated. Herbal teas not only help you to drink your daily intake but also come alongside a plethora of health benefits. You can find out more about this on Develop Good Habits.

For more ideas on how you can begin drinking more water, take a look at Self.

Fruit Infused Water

4. Wear Compression Socks

You have probably had plenty of patients who have been advised to wear compression socks after operations, but you would be surprised how much they can help you during your long shifts.

Twelve hours shifts involve 90% being on your feet and rushing around the ward, which can begin to impact your health. Those that spend a vast majority of their day on their feet are at high risk of varicose veins due to the lack of blood flow. Varicose veins can begin to cause discomfort, making your legs ache, feet swell, and muscles cramp. Wearing compression socks will promote healthy blood flow and stop swelling, reducing fatigue and the amount of lactic acid that builds up in the legs. These socks can be picked up for a low price from sites such as Day Long.

Compression Socks

5. Leave The Unit During Breaks

Staring at the same four walls for 12 hours straight is going to make you feel tired, unproductive and, let’s face it, grumpy. With this in mind, we suggest using your break to your full advantage. Instead of eating your lunch at the nurse’s station, leave the unit for a change of scenery. Whether you sit outside or drive to a nearby location, venturing away from the workplace will help you to clear your mind and recuperate your thoughts. You will arrive back at your shift feeling revitalised and ready to take on the last few hours.

During your break, try to find something that will help you to take your mind off the hustle and bustle of the ward. Whether you read a book, listen to music, or pop on a nursing podcast, find a method that will help you to relax.

Nurse On Lunch Break

6. Invest In Comfortable Shoes

Comfortable shoes that support your feet will be one of your most valuable investments as a nurse. As covered in tip four, you will be spending almost all of your shift on your feet, so you need shoes that will stop aching and blisters forming. Some important factors to consider when searching for shoes are:

  • Slip Resistance: The flooring on units is regularly cleaned to ensure the environment remains hygienic, which means that slip-resistant shoes are imperative. You can rush around as much as you need without worrying about slipping hazards.
  • Lightweight: Wearing heavy shoes means that you will leave your shift with super achy, swollen feet. Instead, opt for a lightweight pair of shoes that feel comfortable.
  • Support: Ensuring that your shoes provide back and ankle support means that you will prevent the risk of pain, strains or injuries. Test out the shoes and their level of support before making the purchase.

If you’re stuck for inspiration on what type of shoes would be best, take a look at Runner Click for the ten best-reviewed.

Black Trainers

7. Stay Busy

The busier you are, the quicker the time will fly. While there is nothing wrong with taking ten minutes to relax in quieter moments of the day, perhaps to grab a coffee, sitting any longer will make your shift drag.

Aim to be as proactive as possible, spending your free moments helping out other members of the team. Helping to tick a few tasks off their to-do list will not only ease stress but also help you build relationships. You never know; there might be a day when you are rushed off your feet, and their help will prove invaluable.

Not only will grabbing extra opportunities with two hands forge strong relationships with colleagues, but it will also enhance your learning and professional development. You might get the chance to learn a new skill or further your knowledge on a topic you’re a little unsure about.

Nurse Writing Notes

8. Be Organised

A lot can happen in the space of 12 hours, which means that staying organised is vital in ensuring that you do not forget any tasks.

Always arrive a little earlier than when you’re due to start to give you plenty of time to read through your handover. Use this, along with basic nursing tasks, to create a tick list for the day. You will then be able to keep track of what has been completed and what may need to be passed on to the next nurses. Keep your list with you at all times to tick off as you go along and add on any additional tasks.


9. Get Lots Of Rest

Getting plenty of rest is vital in keeping you healthy, both physically and mentally. Lack of sleep will not only reduce concentration and productivity but also impact your immune system.

If you are struggling to get a good night’s sleep and seem always to feel tired, we suggest experimenting with the Sleep Cycle app. The Sleep Cycle app will analyse your sleeping pattern, tracking your movements and determining how long you stay in each phase. The information will then be used to set your alarm to wake you when you are at your lightest sleeping stage. Waking up during a light stage will make you feel immediately more awake from the moment you jump out of bed.

Woman Waking Up

10. Correct Deficiencies

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can cause tiredness and low mood, both of which have the potential to affect your ability to cope with 12 hour shifts at work. As experts in healthcare recruitment, we highly recommend that all medical professionals take the time to be assessed for nutrient deficiencies, should they experience any signs of deficiency. This way, they can take supplements as recommended by their doctor to correct any deficiencies. This should resolve resulting fatigue and brain fog and help protect health in the long term. However, supplements should not be used as a substitute for a healthy, balanced diet; rather, they should be taken alongside sufficient, nutritious food when recommended. Taking too many vitamins can also be harmful to health, which is why it’s important to talk to your doctor before beginning any kind of dietary supplement.


Follow Our Tips For Nurses Working 12 Hour Shifts

Taking on 12 hour shifts is an incredibly exciting step in your career. It will provide you with a whole host of new experiences, skills and knowledge that will help you to progress in your role. As experts with many years of experience in filling nursing jobs, we can testify that longer shifts are most definitely made easier when you take the time to care for yourself, ensuring that you maintain optimum health and energy through your shifts. For more tips on coping with the stressors of being a nurse, check out our previous article for our work-life balance tips for nurses. If you would like to become a candidate for nursing positions, please do not hesitate to get in touch with our team, who are more than happy to assist and answer any questions you may have.

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