(*Updated 3/9/20. This post about 12-hour shifts and health may contain affiliate links. You can read my disclosure policy here).
Preparing for 12-hour shifts as a registered nurse requires some prearranged groundwork and organization at home to ensure my day starts off on the right foot. As a working mom, I know I will be gone for a large chunk of time so I do my best to make sure things are properly set up at home the day before.
Additionally, as a nurse, I know how important it is that I take good care of myself so I can continue to give the best possible care to my family and patients. After all, I can’t expect others to listen to my health education if I don’t take my own advice and stay healthy too. No excuses!
My top 3 priorities for 12 hour-shifts and staying healthy:
#1. Grocery shop and prepare all meals in advance
I grocery shop every three days so I am able to prepare meals for my toddlers and for each of my 12-hour shifts at the hospital in advance. To avoid scrambling at the last minute I always make sure everything is ready and packaged to go the night before.
I prepare several options for the kids’ breakfasts, lunch, and dinner such including:
- Avocado or almond toast
- Bananas, apples, kiwis, various berries
- Black bean or chickpea pasta
- Cheese squares
- Veggies straws with hummus
- Veggie/fruit smoothies
- Sautéed veggies
In addition, one day per week I make a big batch of quinoa or brown rice and keep it handy in the fridge for quick meal preparation. When I need it, I add veggies, nuts, seeds, dried cranberries, olive oil, tempeh or whatever else I have in the fridge at that moment. This is so convenient because I can whip something up quickly for my work lunches and I also have it on days I’m home with the kids.
The Nutribullet is by far my favorite cooking tool.
In fact, I use it at least once or twice a day! I make everything from veggie smoothies, to salad dressings, to soups and blended coffee drinks. It makes my life so much easier, especially now that we have kids and time is limited.
In the mornings, I make a vegetable and berry smoothie with 1 tablespoon of Maca powder, flaxseed and/or hemp seeds for protein, and acai powder. I alternate my veggies between broccoli, spinach, and kale. For the berry part: strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries although sometimes ill add half a banana or mango. (The Nutribullet is one of the best inventions of the 21st century, I tell you).
I also make several mason jars of overnight oats on Sundays with a variety of flavors:
- Peanut butter and maple
- Banana and walnut
- Almond and raisin
I either add ground flax seeds or chia seeds for extra protein and antioxidant benefits. And I’ll top with a dash of cinnamon. These make such an easy breakfast to go!
#2 Sleep as much as possible before a 12-hour shift
Let’s be honest – 12-hour shifts usually end up being closer to 14+ at the end of the day. And, many studies show that working 12-hour shifts are damaging to nurse health due to the length of time that nurses end up working. In fact, an increased risk of depression, anxiety, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and even some cancers have all been researched and publicized.
Since the shifts are not getting shorter anytime soon, the best thing that nurses can due to take care of themselves is rest as much as possible before shifts. Therefore, I make it a huge priority to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep before shifts. (This was so much easier before we had kids!)
I few things I use to help me sleep better at night:
- Eye mask and earplugs. After having kids I realized that I am an incredibly light sleeper. In fact, even the slightest noises wake me up in the middle of the night. And sometimes I have difficulty falling back asleep again which is so frustrating when I work a 12-hour shift in the morning.
- Restorative yoga poses. I keep a yoga pillow and a yoga mat right next to the bed that I use for restorative yoga poses about 20 minutes before I try to go to sleep. It helps decompress me from my day, check-in with myself and put me into a snugly and sleepy mood.
#3 Get regular exercise on the off days
I always feel so much better when I get my heart rate up on my days off. The benefits of exercise have been well documented and are essential for nurse self-care. It is no secret that regular exercise helps control weight, boosts overall energy, improves your mood and decreases stress levels. Not only does exercise benefit the nurse personally, but it also helps nurses have the stamina to give better care to patients as well.
Need to blow off some steam after a stressful day? A yoga session or brisk 30-minute walk can help. Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. Which, in turn, will help manage caregiver burden and help you feel your best.
For me personally, yoga has been a total game-changer for my stress levels. But its also great to change up the routine a bit, and I enjoy escaping with my headphones for a run and listening to music. Whatever you do is great, as long as you actually do it!
Consider wearing compression stockings or compression socks.
Those who know me, know I’m a stickler for compression socks. Wearing compression stockings helped me work all the way through two pregnancies and I continue to wear them to this day. They help keep your legs energized, prevent varicose veins, and keep your ankles and feet from getting so swollen after being on your feet all day. Plus, they come is the cutest styles now.
Being a working mom is hard work.
But with a little preparation and focus on your personal well-being and time management you can be both a healthy nurse and give great care to your patients.
So, what are you going to do for yourself to ensure that you stay healthy and thrive?
Additional recommended reading:
- Why I Will Always Be A Working Mom
- Simple Stress Management For Nurses
- 7 Helpful Ways For Nurses To Stay Hydrated
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