Twelve-hour shifts are very common for travel nurses and may come with perks like several days off during the week.

Even with the additional days off to rest and recharge, longer shifts can be taxing and draining. And if nurses aren’t proactive or have a plan for how to handle the stresses of longer shifts, work can quickly become unmanageable and unenjoyable.

We’ve compiled a list of the best 9 tips for nurses working 12-hour shifts to help you not just survive the long hours but to thrive doing the job you love.


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9 Survival Tips for Nurses Working 12-Hour Shifts

The challenges of working long shifts can be confidently approached when you take advantage of practices in the areas of:

  • Sleep 
  • Physical health
  • Work preparation
  • Work attire
  • Mental exercise
  • Relational health with coworkers
  • Organization
  • Work schedule consistency
  • And more

Take a look at the following tips and consider how you can begin putting some — or all — of them into practice to make your nursing 12-hour shifts as fruitful as possible.

And when you’re ready to find the travel nursing job of your dreams, Trusted Nurse Staffing can help you find what you’re looking for and help you navigate the process from beginning to end. Find jobs on Pronto today.


tips for nurses working 12 hour shifts


#1: Get Enough Sleep

Getting the right amount of sleep is essential for us to stay physically and mentally healthy. For travel nurses that work 12-hour shifts, getting enough sleep is also vital to work performance, patient care, and safety. Getting somewhere between seven and nine hours of sleep each night is optimal.

Not only is the amount of sleep important, but the quality of sleep may be even more essential. 

Work on getting into a sleep routine with a balanced sleep/wake cycle. Aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day — even on your days off. 

This may help you get adequate rest without disrupting your sleep cycle, which includes cycles of REM sleep that are most restorative. According to Shawn Stevenson, author of Sleep Smarter, the most restorative sleep generally happens between 10:00 pm to 2:00 am. When possible, try to get in bed to take advantage of the special sleep that happens during those hours.

Above all, find a sleep routine that works with your individual needs and schedule to make a way for you to relax and get the rest you need. This is especially true if you work the night shift, when you may need to get creative and adjust your sleep schedule to ensure you’re getting enough sleep before your shift.

If sleep evades you, try these tips to encourage a good night’s sleep:

  • Read before you drift off to sleep.
  • Listen to music, meditate, or focus on breathing to help you relax.
  • Use earplugs or a sound machine to block out unwanted noises.
  • Use blackout curtains if you need to sleep during the day.
  • Use an app that monitors sleep and use the recommendations from the data recorded.
  • Lay off the caffeine in the evening or several hours before you plan to sleep.
  • Plan to turn off screens 90 minutes before you hit the hay and remove electronic devices from your bedroom.


#2: Carefully Prepare for Your Shift 

Prepping the night before your shift can do wonders to help you arrive at work with a calm and positive attitude, ready to seize the day.

To be prepared and ready to head out the door without anxiety and rushing around, put these tips into practice:

  • Lay out your clothes and shoes the night before. If necessary, iron your scrubs ahead of time. Consider packing an extra set of scrubs in case you need to change during your shift.
  • Prepare and pack lunches and snacks the night before. Fill up your water bottle.
  • Pack your bag with the necessary supplies you need to take with you, including:
    • Pens
    • Stethoscope
    • Watch
    • Badge
    • Phone
    • Keys
  • Put gas in the car and plan your commute, choosing the quickest route to work.
  • Check the weather and gather any potentially necessary accessories like an umbrella, raincoat, scarf, or gloves.
  • Set the coffee pot the night before and have some quick breakfast options on hand.

Don’t wait till the last minute to start getting ready for work. Planning ahead lowers morning stress and helps you get to work on time. It may also mean you can get to work early to read through your patients’ notes before beginning your 12-hour shift.


tips for nurses working 12 hour shifts


#3: Dress Comfortably and Wear the Right Socks and Shoes

When you’re on your feet for 12 hours at a time, dressing comfortably and taking care of your feet must be a priority. Dress comfortably, even if you are required to wear a prescribed uniform. Scrub styles and options are seemingly endless, so finding comfort and style should be easy.

Wearing the wrong shoes can wreak havoc on your body, leading to back pain, sore feet, and blisters. Look for shoes that are: 

  • Comfortable
  • Lightweight
  • Supportive; and
  • Fit well

Athletic shoes are a good option and should be replaced regularly, according to use — generally every six to nine months. 

Just as important as the shoes you choose are the kinds of socks you wear, and compression socks are ideal. Though probably known for use by diabetics, compression socks are worn by many medical professionals who are on their feet for hours at a time.

Compression socks come in all sorts of fun colors, so nurses can be stylish while also:

  • Increasing blood circulation
  • Decreasing inflammation
  • Lessening muscle pain
  • Reducing the risk of varicose veins

Your two feet are the only ones you’ve got. Treat them right by investing in quality shoes and socks.


#4: Stay Hydrated 

When a 12-hour shift gets busy, it can be hard to remember to stop and drink water. When you don’t drink enough liquids — preferably water — you risk getting dehydrated, which may include symptoms like:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Ability to focus

In contrast, staying hydrated can help:

  • Control food cravings
  • Lessen fatigue
  • Keep the body at a normal temperature
  • Boost energy levels
  • Lubricate joints
  • Rid the body of waste
  • Manage body weight

For those long shifts, try these tips to make staying hydrated a top priority:

  • Keep a water bottle with you throughout your shift.
  • Use a marked water bottle to keep an eye on your water intake.
  • Use a hydration app or set an alarm to remind yourself to drink regularly.
  • Add variety to your fluid intake by adding decaffeinated teas, flavors, electrolytes, and minerals.
  • Avoid caffeinated and sugary drinks.


#5: Eat Healthy Meals and Snacks 

Getting the nutrition you need from meals and snacks during your lengthy shifts can be equally as challenging as staying hydrated. During a 12-hour shift, it’s all too easy to get carried away with serving your patients and not take time to take a break for a bite to eat.

Two of the best ways to combat this are:

  1. Planning ahead
  2. Packing healthy snacks and meals

To ensure you have healthy meals for work, create a meal plan that includes healthy proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Prep meals a day or two before your shift and store them in pre-portioned containers that are easy to pack and reheat. 

For those times when a sit-down meal break just isn’t going to happen, pack healthy go-to snacks like:

  • Nuts
  • Yogurt
  • Smoothies
  • Granola
  • Protein bars
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Cheese sticks


#6: Keep Your Body Physically Healthy

Exercising may be the last thing on your mind before or after a 12-hour nursing shift, but regular exercise is an optimal way to:

  • Manage weight
  • Stay physically fit
  • Boost mood and energy
  • And more

Make exercise enjoyable and motivating by alternating between strenuous workouts and those that are more relaxed. 

There are seemingly innumerable exercise options to fit your mood and fitness level:

  • Strength workouts at the gym
  • Walking
  • Riding a bike
  • Yoga
  • Playing a sport
  • Joining a class or fitness group

You may not always have time to work out on days when you work a 12-hour shift, but try to make exercise a regular activity on your off days.

And when you don’t have time for a long exercise session, allow time for a short one before going to work or use an app to count steps throughout your shift. Set a goal and aim for the recommended 10,000 steps a day.


tips for nurses working 12 hour shifts


#7: Be a Good Team Player 

Without question, nurses who work 12-hour shifts won’t be working alone. It takes a team of skilled medical staff to properly and compassionately care for their patients.

Make it a goal to keep busy during your shift and help team members out when you’re less busy. They’ll likely do the same for you when your workload gets overwhelming. Not only that, but staying busy helps the shift fly by, and before you know it, you’ll be passing the baton to the nurse coming on after your shift is over.

Work together to encourage team members and keep them in the loop by communicating well and often. This kind of teamwork not only makes for a more peaceful shift but also helps give credibility with your patients and families.


#8: When On Breaks, Actually Break

Taking regular breaks is necessary to give you a moment to regroup during a long shift, so plan to take all of your breaks.

Though your breaks may be regularly scheduled, logistics and unexpected emergencies may keep you from being able to take your break at the prescribed break time. So, when you do get a break, take advantage of it.

Consider these activities to get recharged during your break:

  • Do some stretches to loosen up your muscles and joints.
  • Take a short walk outside to get some sunshine and fresh air.
  • Visit with a friend or coworker.
  • Read a portion of a book.
  • Listen to some relaxing music or a motivational podcast.

And it should go without saying that you’ll use some portion of your break to eat those healthy meals or snacks that you prepared and carried with you to work.


tips for nurses working 12 hour shifts


#9: Enjoy Your Days Off

Many travel nurses who work 12-hour shifts have a three or four-day work week, which leaves additional days to rest, relax, and take care of miscellaneous administrative duties at home.

Creating balance is one of the most important things to remember when planning work days and days off. Work diligently when you’re on duty, but also make sure your off days are pursued with just as much purpose.

Think about how you want to spend your time off. Do you need time to just chill out at home and sleep in, or would you like to take a short trip or plan an outing with friends? You may also need to set aside some time on your days off to take care of errands, appointments, and chores.

As you are able, you can also make the most of your days off by strategically scheduling them among your work days. Maybe you’d prefer to scatter them evenly between workdays to allow for regular rest. Or you may want to schedule several days off consecutively to plan a short trip or take advantage of local activities.

As a travel nurse, days off can mean adventure as you get to experience the sights and attractions of your new city. Whether your assignment is just a few weeks or is the typical 13-week stint, use your time off to:

  • Walk through a new city
  • Attend a book club
  • Go hiking at nearby trails
  • Meet up with friends for drinks or dinner
  • See the latest movie or attend a play or concert

The options are endless. The important thing is to take advantage of what your new location has to offer.


Plan Your Next Nursing Shifts With Trusted Nurse Staffing

Whether you prefer 12-hour shifts or other shift options, Trusted Nurse Staffing is here to help you find a travel nursing assignment you’ll love in the location of your choosing.

It’s easy to start by searching for available jobs using Pronto. Once you find the position that interests you, our team of recruiters will do what it takes to make that assignment a reality, from connecting you with your top choices to arranging interviews with the hiring facility to negotiating or extending your contract or finding your next assignment.

Working with Trusted Nurse Staffing comes with exceptional benefits, like:

  • Sign-on bonuses
  • Completion bonuses
  • Health benefits
  • 401(k)
  • Housing, meal, and travel stipends
  • And more

See why travel nurses are turning to Trusted Nurse Staffing to help them navigate their travel nurse careers. Start traveling today doing the job you love.


tips for nurses working 12 hour shifts