As a nurse, you’ve probably heard a million times, “It must be so nice only working three days a week.” It’s exhausting. It takes every ounce of your physical and mental energy to work multiple 12-hour shifts in a week. The truth is, many of those 12-hour shifts turn into 13 or more hours of work. While the shifts are tiring, there are some advantages, which is why many nurses continue to work that many hours in a day.
The Advantages of 12-Hour Shifts
- Shortened Work Week: In most hospitals, working three 12-hour shifts means four days off each week. The extended break is advantageous if you have a longer commute or require child care. You get less time on the road and more time with your family than those working the traditional 9 to 5.
- Work-Life Balance: Planning short getaways, medical appointments, or just relaxing with family and friends is more possible with four days away from nursing. You get an extended mental break from a demanding, unpredictable job – making your performance better when you return.
- Flexibility: In some facilities, nurses can choose which shift they would like to work. You can also lump your shifts together for longer stretches of off time.
As with any profession, there are drawbacks to 12-hour nursing shifts. It’s helpful to consider the pros and the cons to determine which work schedule works best for your lifestyle and family.
The Disadvantages of 12-Hour Shifts
- Exhaustion: Even a multi-day break can’t fully prepare your mind and body for long days (or nights). Working 12 hours on your feet, always mentally prepared for the unknown, and being alert to avoid mistakes takes a toll on your body. After work, you crash, hopefully getting enough rest to do it again the following day.
- Emotional Damage: The night shift blues for nurses is a real thing that can leave you feeling like you’re suffering an emotional hangover. Working the night shift often means your body has a lower level of serotonin compared to those who work the day shift, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine journal. Being able to handle the emotional stress of a 12-hour shift is something to consider before signing on for the routine.
- Health Risks: Long days – 16+ hours for most nurses – means you’re sleeping less. Without a conscious effort to combat certain health risks, you’re more susceptible to depression, anxiety, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and other serious illnesses.
How To Handle 12-hour Shifts As A Nurse
Talk with your family and have an honest internal conversation with yourself. Recognizing the benefits and disadvantages of a 12-hour nursing shift will help you best prepare for the reality of long hours. You must make an intentional effort to care for yourself – mentally and physically – when you sign on for the challenging work schedule.
- Build a “nighttime” routine to get plenty of sleep before work
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet
- Limit caffeine
- Meditate and practice deep breathing to handle stress
- Take your breaks, walking off the unit if possible
- Eat healthy snacks to maintain energy
The hours are long, but many nurses want to work the 12-hour shifts for extended down time. As a registered nurse, your skills are in demand and you have options. Explore different facilities to see where your skills are best suited.