How I Prepare For A 12 Hour Shift

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Preparing for a 12 hour shift as a registered nurse requires some prearranged ground work 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.

Of course, you cant prepare for everything. But there are some habits I have formed to make life run smoothly most of the time.

Nurse Life: How I prepare for a 12 hour shift. Focus on these three things to help you dominate your shift!
Nurse Life: How I prepare for a 12 hour shift. Focus on these three things to help you dominate your shift!

#1 Grocery shopping and food preparation

I grocery shop twice a week so I am able to prepare all of my work meals and my daughter’s food at least a day ahead of time. This is essential for me as a working Mom because if I don’t prepare food ahead of time then Zoe will have nothing to eat during the day. Bad Mom! (There have been a few late nights I almost forgot and scrambled last minute).

I make sure my daughter has a several options while I’m gone: avocado toast, bananas, apples, pasta, black bean or chick pea pasta, cheese squares, veggie/fruit smoothies, chicken, eggs, sautéed veggies to name a few things.

One day per week I make a big batch of quinoa and keep it handy in the fridge for myself. 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 Zoe.

I make several mason jars of overnight oats on Sundays with a variation of these flavors: blueberry/strawberry/raspberry, peanut butter and maple, banana and walnut, or almond and raisin. I’ll either add ground flax seed or chia seeds for extra protein and antioxidant benefit. And I’ll top with a dash of cinnamon. Easy breakfast on the go!

#2 Sleep as much as possible before a 12 hour shift

Sleeping nurse
Sleeping helps me prepare for a 12 hour shift.

After food prep is complete, my next goal before a shift is to get the maximum amount of sleep possible. Having a child sometimes doesn’t permit this but I do my best. I purposely don’t give myself extra time in the morning because I prefer to spend that time sleeping.

Since I’m out the door at 5:45 am I don’t have a lot of wiggle room so I try to be in bed by 9:30 pm and asleep no later than 10 pm. (On the weekends this is a different story, Mom and Dad need to have some fun too!).

Having a baby has gotten us into the habit of getting into bed really early, sometimes as early as 8 pm. We don’t usually fall asleep right away but my husband usually goes to sleep by 9 pm and sometimes I stay up another 30-45 minutes or so to read.

#3 Get regular exercise on the off days

Nurse practicing yoga
Nurse health is important!  You can’t effectively take care of others unless you take care of yourself first.

I have heard stories of the proverbial nurse who gets a workout in in the morning before a 12 hour shift. I would like to meet this person because they are my hero! No way will you EVER see me getting up that early for a workout.

Sometimes in the summer when its warmer I will go for a run after work around 8:30 pm, otherwise I just try and fit it in on my days off.

I am so fortunate to work daytime hours. It is so hard to try and work out after a night shift, but I hear about nurses who do it all the time. I have done the graveyard thing in the past, but I’m not doing it anymore, thank God! Working from 7pm to 7am has got to be the most difficult schedule that a human can work for 50+ reasons, but that is for a whole different post.

Consider wearing compression stockings or 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 and prevent painful, ugly various veins in the future!

This is what my work morning is like before a 12 hour shift (fast but efficient!):

0510: Wake up and get dressed. I almost always shower the night before to save time. Since I have very curly hair I pretty much always wake up with Medusa dreadlocks from going to bed with my hair wet. I put it back into a bun or low pony tail to keep it off my neck, conveniently disguising dreadlocks-in-progress.

0530: The following routine is also done at light speed: brush teeth, apply light makeup, head to kitchen.

0538: I grab my pre-made lunch bag out of the fridge to make sure I don’t forget it. I have been a nurse for almost 5 years and in that entire time I have only bought lunch at work maybe 10 times. This occurs because I forgot my lunch or I was meeting someone out (my lunch break is only 1 hour max so this rarely happens, unless its a cafeteria lunch on the first floor).

0540: 99% of the time I have a vegetable and berry smoothie with 1 tablespoon of Maca powder, flax seed and/or hemp seeds for protein, and acai powder. I alternate my veggies between broccoli, spinach or kale. For the berry part: strawberries, blueberries and raspberries although sometimes ill add half a banana or mango. A Nutribullet is how I prepare all of this (one of the best inventions of the 21st century, by the way).

0545: Time to run out the door with my adorable (and functional) nursing bag, insulated lunch bag, veggie smoothie and coffee mug. Not bad for getting up at 5:15. My routine is rushed, but its a habit, and I’ve never shown up to work late.

Los Angeles traffic is a total bear (and why working crazy long shifts works for me).

One of the few benefits of working a twelve hour shift (sometimes more) its that I leave so early in the morning that I miss the brunt of morning rush hour. At night I work so late (usually until 7:30-8pm) that I miss most of the evening traffic as well. This is one reason being a nurse works for me.

These are 2 reasons that I would seriously consider retiring from my nursing career:

Reason #1: If I had to work with patients 5 days a week. The caregiver burden would be too much for me. Not only are 12 hour shifts safer for patient care because there is less nurse exchange, but having an extra day or 2 of is essential for RN rejuvenation.

Reason #2: If I worked “normal” 9-5 hours because I would spend an additional 3 hours sitting in traffic EVERY SINGLE DAY. There is no way I would even do that.

So even though the days are long and arduous I am actually very grateful that I can work a 12 hour shift instead of the normal 9-5 routine!

Thanks for reading!

Sarah, Mother Nurse Love

Pssst!  Check out these adorable insulated lunch bags.   Perfect for working a 12 hour shift!

Additional Recommended Reading

7 Ways To Beat Nurse Burnout

Nurse Health:  Self Care For 12 Hour Shifts

How Becoming A Per Diem Nurse Helped Me Find A Work-Life Balance

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About The Author


Sarah Jividen is a registered nurse, blogger, writer, wife, and mother with an aspiration to empower nurses and moms to take better care of themselves. Sarah lives with her husband in a beach suburb outside of Los Angeles where they are raising their two-year-old daughter, newborn son and two rescue kitties. In a rare moment of free time you may find Sarah practicing yoga, socializing with friends, sampling dark beers or attending a local concert venue with her husband.


  1. Emma | 11th May 18

    He Sarah, Great Article. Really enjoyable read. I am a fellow nurse (without kids) and I always amazed at what you mums and dads can achieve before an early!

    • Sarah | 11th May 18

      Thank you Emma! I love hearing comments from fellow nurses. ❤️

  2. Frances | 19th May 18

    Love this post! I’m a 12 hr night shift RN and mom. This is so relatable☺️

    • Sarah | 19th May 18

      Thank you Frances!!

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