*This post contains affiliate links/ Updated from 12/2017
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 me when I talk about health about staying healthy if I don’t take my own advice.
How I Prepare For a 12-Hour Shift
#1. 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, 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.
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 one 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.
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 it with a dash of cinnamon. These make such an easy breakfast to go!
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#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 do to take care of themselves is to 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!)
A 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.
Blackout Sleep Mask
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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 snug and sleepy mood.
Heathyoga Eco-Friendly Non-Slip Yoga Mat
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AJNA Yoga Bolster Pillow -100% Organic Vegan Suede
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#3. Exercise On Days Off
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’s burden and help you feel your best.
For me personally, yoga has been a total game-changer for my stress levels. But it’s 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!
#4. Wear Compression Socks
These don’t actually help me prepare for a shift; however, they are super important!. 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 at work 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 in the cutest styles now.
6-Pack Compression Socks
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♥ Over 50,000 global reviews/ 4.5 out of 5 stars
Nurses play a crucial role in the healthcare industry and are essential in providing quality care to patients. However, in the midst of their demanding and often stressful work, nurses tend to neglect their own health and well-being.
It is important for nurses to prioritize self-care and take the necessary steps to maintain their physical, emotional, and mental health. This will not only benefit you personally but also ensure you can continue to provide excellent care to your patients. Therefore, it is imperative that nurses recognize the importance of self-care and make it a priority in their lives.
Thanks, and best of luck!
How To Prepare For A 12-Hour Shift Frequently Asked Questions
How do I prepare my body for a 12-hour shift?
Preparing your body for a 12-hour shift is important to avoid fatigue and reduce the risk of injury. Here are some tips:
- Get enough sleep the night before.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet and stay hydrated.
- Wear comfortable, supportive shoes and clothing.
- Take breaks and stretch throughout the shift.
- Practice good posture and ergonomics.
- Stay mentally alert with activities like listening to music or podcasts during breaks.
What should a 12-hour nursing shift eat?
A balanced diet is important for nurses working 12-hour shifts. Here are some tips for healthy eating during a long shift:
- Eat a nutritious breakfast before your shift.
- Bring healthy snacks such as fruit, nuts, or vegetables to eat throughout the day.
- Pack a balanced lunch with protein, whole grains, and vegetables.
- Drink plenty of water and avoid sugary drinks and excessive caffeine.
- Avoid heavy, greasy meals that can make you feel sluggish.
How far does a nurse walk during an average 12-hour shift?
Nurses can walk several miles during a 12-hour shift, depending on the unit and patient population. On average, a nurse may walk between 4 and 6 miles per shift.
How much sleep do I need for a 12-hour shift?
The amount of sleep you need for a 12-hour shift will vary depending on your individual needs. However, it is generally recommended that adults get 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
How to survive three 12-hour shifts in a row?
Surviving three 12-hour shifts in a row can be challenging. Here are some tips to help you manage:
- Get enough sleep and rest between shifts.
- Stay hydrated and eat nutritious meals.
- Take breaks and stretch throughout the shift.
- Prioritize self-care activities such as exercise, meditation, or spending time with friends and family.
- Use your days off to rest and recharge.
What are the disadvantages of nurses working 12-hour shifts?
Some of the disadvantages of working 12-hour shifts for nurses include:
- Increased risk of burnout and fatigue.
- Difficulty maintaining work-life balance.
- Increased risk of workplace injuries.
- Potential negative impact on patient safety and quality of care.
- Potential negative impact on personal relationships and mental health.
Why are 8-hour shifts better than 12-hour shifts for nursing?
Some of the advantages of 8-hour shifts over 12-hour shifts for nursing include:
- Lower risk of burnout and fatigue.
- Easier to maintain work-life balance.
- More opportunities for education and training.
- Lower risk of workplace injuries.
- Potential for improved patient safety and quality of care.
Additional recommended reading:
As an expecting Mother and registered nurse, I will soon be confronting one of the biggest downfalls to being a per diem RN: unpaid maternity leave.
In fact, as a per diem nurse, I receive absolutely zero benefits outside of my regular hourly rate.
So why be a per diem nurse, you ask?
Per diem nursing has been a game-changer for me because it gives me the scheduling flexibly I need to be a working Mom. Per diem means: for each day. As a nurse, I am literally employed “by the day.” Essentially, I can schedule myself to work any day I want.
Zoe is going to have a lot more responsibility soon in her next role as big sister.
I became a per diem nurse out of necessity due to scheduling and childcare issues. The telemetry unit I had been working on was unable to give me a set weekly schedule. This made it very difficult to secure a regular nanny or plan for daycare for our daughter.
Every month I would request the schedule I needed to make my childcare situation work. Unfortunately, I would inevitably still be scheduled on many days in which I had no childcare available to me.
I had a choice: continue to call-in sick and struggle to find alternative childcare. Or make a change that allowed me to have the flexibility I needed to be a working Mom. Ultimately, my husband and I made the decision that it was better to leave my career RN position in order to reap the much needed flexibility benefit of being a per diem nurse.
Still, there is something about this that infuriates me: I have been paying into maternity leave and disability benefits for almost 17 years. Now that I’m pregnant again and actually need maternity leave benefits, I’m no longer eligible for them. Oh, the irony!
Maternity leave: A financial drain
After baby arrives, I will be out for at least 8 weeks or longer so I can spend baby bonding time with our son. This will add up to a lot of money lost.
Just to make my point, here is a hypothetical, but very real situation:
Lets say I make a little over $1000 a day and I work 3 days a week. 3 days x $1000 = $3,000 per week. So just one week of unpaid maternity leave results in a $3,000 financial loss.
So far, the math is pretty simple. It doesn’t sound that horrible… yet.
But, if you multiply $3,000 a week by 8 weeks of maternity leave, that equals $24,000 in financial losses. And that’s if I only take off a measly 8 weeks of baby bonding time.
I will be taking more time then that so I can spend more time at home with our son. I think its important for his early development and luckily we can afford it.
And the financial losses continue to rise…
12 weeks = $36,000
16 weeks = $48,000
You get my point… It really starts to add up.
Additional time off before baby
I could be out of work for weeks or months before I give birth depending on how my pregnancy progresses in the third trimester. Nurses have very physically demanding jobs that often require grueling 12 hour shifts. There is a strong possibility that I may have to step out earlier then I would like.
We could be looking at 50k or more in financial losses depending on how early I have to stop working and how long I decide to stay home with our newborn.
Who knew having a baby was so costly for a working Mom in the United States? Even before factoring in medical expenses.
Unpaid maternity leave statistics in the U.S.
This is a very sleepy photo of Zoe and me in the NICU when she was a week old. Zoe arrived 7 weeks early. At 4.3 pounds we are incredibly luckily that she was as healthy as she was. Our doctors called her “tiny but mighty.”
It makes me so sad that I live in the only developed country in the world that doesn’t automatically offer paid maternity leave benefits to working women. In fact, 88% of employees have no access to paid maternity leave or paid paternity leave in the U.S.
The Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees by federal law that women are entitled up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off. However, many women still don’t even qualify for that if they work for a small employer or have been with that employer less then 1 year. What a shame.
Now that I have gotten my venting out of the way, it’s time to talk about a plan. The only thing left to do is try to make the best out of a crummy situation.
I am determined to make my maternity leave as positive and stress-free as possible, despite the financial drain of having no paid maternity leave.
Unpaid maternity leave: How to make it work!
#1. Open a new saving account dedicated to maternity leave.
One of the easiest ways to save money is to pay yourself first each paycheck through direct deposit. That way you don’t even see then money hitting your checking account. Liquid cash is good so you can use it when you need it.
Suzie Orman, one of my long-time favorite financial gurus says that you want to have as much money saved up for as many months as you plan to take off, as well as an 8 month emergency plan. You never know when an emergency can strike, for example, a medical emergency, a job loss or worse. The faster you can start saving into an account dedicated to maternity leave, the more prepared you will be when it comes.
#2. Make a budget and stick to it.
I prefer more of a no budget, budget strategy. Basically, I decide how much I want to save each paycheck and immediately transfer it into an online Barclays savings account as soon as payday comes. No muss, no fuss.
I am aware of everything I purchase and review it each month by using a program called Mint to track my expenses. If you aren’t using this, you should be. Since I have started using Mint I have watch my savings rate take off to a place I have never been able to before. It is amazing how much you can save when you know exactly where your money is going!
I’m always surprised at how many people I talk to who have no idea what they really spend in a month. Needless to say, this is a poor strategy for preparing for an unpaid maternity leave. You’ve got to have a plan.
#3. Make more money now or take on extra work.
If you are currently pregnant or even just thinking about it, now is a good time to take on extra hours at work. Especially if you are able to get overtime pay.
As a nurse, anything over 40 hours of work a week is considered overtime at my hospital. Is is very difficult for me to do more then that since I have my daughter at home, but I have done it a few times just to add a little more to my savings.
In addition, some holidays pay time-and-a-half rates. Therefore, I have been known to pick up shifts on Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving or even Christmas. Its not my favorite thing to do but my family handles it by celebrating these holidays on the day before or the day after the actual holiday. It adds up quite a bit when you are saving to be out for a few months.
#4. Discuss recurring expenses that you aren’t really using or don’t need.
Look at your expenses and see if there is anywhere that you can reasonably make a cut. Are you really using the 100$ a month gym membership? Or does it make more sense to take daily walks and do online yoga at home?
My husband and I talk about money a lot more then I think many other couples do. Saving money is all about establishing priorities and being on the same page. Talking about money has kept us in good financial health and kept us on the same page with our spending habits.
#5. Look at the easy ways to cut back.
Families dropping from a dual income to a single income usually need to trim expenses somewhere. Make a list of everything you are spending money on, and be honest with yourself about what is an actual need. Here are a few ideas to throw on the table:
- nix the coffee cart habit = save $4 a day
- pack your lunches = save $12 a day
- cancel the cable you are barely using anyway = save $80 a month
- cook your meals at home instead of ordering take out = potentially $100’s in savings per month (if you eat out a lot)
- go on a 3-6 month spending freeze on things that are not an actual “need” = $(fill in the space here)
Do you get my point? There is A LOT of money to be saved if you just pay more attention to what you are spending money on.
I do consider myself somewhat of an expert on “trimming the fat” on my own spending habits since paying off a large amount of student loan debt in a short amount of time. That experience is helping me prepare my unpaid maternity leave as well.
#6. Don’t fall for the baby registry trap.
There are so many items that I was told I had to have for baby #1. Many of them are “nice to have items” that I barely even used (uh hem, grocery cart baby cover used a mere 3 times!). Needless to say, many things from my baby registry are being stored away in our garage and will probably be given away practically new.
I remember looking through Pinterest at lists of “must haves” for a new Mom. They are long and mostly unnecessary. Stay away from those lists!
For example, I was told that I “needed” the newborn insert for our stroller. But for the first few months I was using her car seat in her stroller. By the time I actually went to use the insert she has already grown out of it. Same went for the ergo baby newborn insert- I didn’t even need it until she was to big to fit in it anyway.
If you actually need something, then go ahead and get it. These are just my thoughts as a second time Mom with baby registry regret. With the exception of a double stroller and a crib (which I will buy pre-owned), I can’t think of any other BIG items I will actually need for our new baby.
#7. Extra expenses to take into consideration:
I was so grateful for amazing baby bonding time with Zoe after she was born.
There will be some extra expenses after the baby is born. Some of the big ones for us are diapers, wipes, formula/food, and additional childcare. None of these things are cheap, so its good to be prepared for the expenses in advance.
You could always decide to go the cloth diaper route. I know people who have done this and it does save quite a bit if money. That, however, was not in our savings plan. There are some things of convenience that really are worth the money, and that was one for us.
Other big expenses include childcare enrichment classes (MyGym, recreation classes, music classes, ect..) if that is something you are interested in.
Childcare is our single biggest expense and we pay our nanny $240-$360 per week (for 2-3 days only). It would cost a lot more if I worked 5 days a week. I have friends who work full time and pay a nanny $750 or more in cash every single week. Day care is much cheaper but still a large expense.
I have read that the average baby costs their parents $300,000 from the time they are born until the time they turn 18. And that doesn’t even include a college education! I don’t know about you, but that really makes me think about how I budget our money.
#8. Think about the big picture.
Having a baby is one of the most amazing human experiences I have ever had. I absolutely love being a Mom. However, it can also be stressful at times, and it probably will be, even with the most thoughtful preparation.
At the end of the day you can only do the best you can. Saving for unpaid maternity leave is just one of the things I am doing to try and ease the financial loss that comes with having a baby. My plan is to eliminate as much stress as I can so I can joyfully relish in the awesomeness that comes with having a new baby.
Now, if only I could invent a healthy way to live on increments of 2 hours of sleep or less, I would be golden!
Additional Recommended Reading
10 Simple Ways To Help Your Toddler Prepare For A New Sibling
Silent Placental Abruption: Our Premature Birth Story
Why I Will Always Be A Working Mom