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6 Life Saving Tips for Working Multiple 12 Hour Shifts as a Travel Nurse

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Health Carousel Travel Nursing
September 7, 2022
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Working several 12-hour nursing shifts in a row can be exhausting and cause fatigue. Many travel nurses like to work several shifts in a row, which is also known as block scheduling. While block scheduling can be great for your lifestyle and work-life balance, it can also require a lot of preparation. Let’s discuss some tips for working 12 hour shifts in a row as a travel nurse.

Meal Prep

Good nutrition is a great way to prevent fatigue and boost energy in preparation for your long twelve hour shifts. In fact, research shows that planning healthy meals ahead of time can lead to a healthier and more quality, balanced diet. People who plan and prepare meals are also less likely to be overweight or obese. 

Since travel nurses work long shifts with short lunch breaks, and sometimes more than 40 hours per week, it’s vital to consider nutrition. Make a meal plan with healthy and easy-to-cook recipes and snacks. 

A day or two before your scheduled shifts, prepare your meals in pre-proportioned containers that are easy to reheat. Prepare all meals and snacks, even if you won’t be eating every meal at the hospital. This way you won’t be tempted to stop by your favorite fast food place on the way home!

In addition, many registered nurses who work overnight shifts feel tired and have trouble sleeping during the day. It’s no different for night shift travel nurses or even for day shift nurses. 

Vitamin D plays an important role in your sleep and at proper levels, can improve your sleep quality. Thus, vitamin D is an important vitamin to incorporate into your diet. Some foods high in vitamin D are salmon, egg yolks, and milk.  

Meal prep can also include planning potlucks or lunch breaks with coworkers. Potlucks or planned celebrations are a good way to get to know your coworkers. Plus, you can get a sense of the company culture and work environment. A bonus too is that you only have to bring one to two food items instead of planning a whole meal! 

Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

Good sleep hygiene is an important contributing factor to your physical and mental health. It’s recommended that you get between seven to nine hours of sleep every night. Try to keep a regular sleep schedule, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on your off days. This can help decrease fatigue on your scheduled work and off days.

If you have trouble falling asleep, minimize screen time before bed. Also, try not to stay up too late on your days off, as this can disrupt your sleep/wake cycle. If you really have trouble falling asleep, sometimes taking over-the-counter melatonin or sleep medication can help as well. 

Stay Hydrated

Due to long 12 hour shifts, busy workdays, and heavy patient assignments, travel nurses will most likely become dehydrated. Drinking water and staying hydrated can boost energy levels and combat fatigue. Water is also a natural appetite suppressant, which can help you control food cravings while working 12 hour shifts.

Drink plenty of water while working your scheduled shifts and during your off days. Bring a refillable water bottle to work to help you track your water intake for the day. If you’ve only consumed two 16-ounce water bottles for the shift, that’s not enough water. Consider purchasing a larger water bottle with measurements to help you keep track of your water intake.

If you can, avoid consuming coffee, tea, or other caffeinated products, since they are high in caffeine. Caffeine is a mild natural diuretic and can dehydrate your body. As a rule of thumb, for every cup you consume of a caffeinated drink, you should drink two cups of water to offset it. 

Also, avoid sugary drinks, such as sodas or juices. They can make you more thirsty and contribute to dehydration.

Exercise

It may seem exhausting, but exercising can actually boost your mood and give you more energy. To help combat fatigue, plan to exercise on your days off. It doesn’t have to be a strenuous activity, but can be relaxing and refreshing. Activities like walking, yoga, or meditation can be good for mental well-being. 

If you find self-motivation difficult at times, plan to exercise or do light activities with friends. This way, you won’t have any excuses for skipping out on exercise. Exercise might even go by faster if you are talking to a friend!

Exercise Options

Exercise is an important aspect of a healthy lifestyle, even if you have time constraints or little spare time. Workings long hours as a travel nurse can be exhausting, but it’s still important to include exercise into your routine. Let’s review some exercise options for travel nurses. 

  • Join a local gym: Research local gym options before traveling to your next assignment and what is located near your housing. Many gyms have monthly or short-term contracts available, you just have to ask. Joining a gym will also keep you accountable to exercise routinely. You don’t want to waste money by getting a gym membership and never using it.
  • Walk: If you accept your next assignment in a larger city, such as New York City or San Francisco, walking is a great option to get your exercise. Walk to the local grocery store or while running errands on your off days to get those extra steps.
  • Exercise at home: Many smartphone apps offer great home exercise options and don’t require any equipment. You can even complete most exercises in your hotel room if you wish. While there are some free fitness apps, most require that you pay a small monthly subscription fee. You can cancel your subscription at any time and download a new app to change your exercise routine. 
  • Join a fitness group or class: Joining a local fitness group or class is a great way to exercise and meet new people. Try a fitness class, such as pilates or yoga, and see if you like it. Most first-timers get one free class or trial week. Another option is to join a local fitness group, such as a hiking group or recreational league. You can find local recreational sporting leagues by doing a quick Google search.

Keep a Consistent Schedule

Keeping the same schedule every week is a good idea to help you prepare for your batch of successive shifts. If you work long hours, night shift, and work more than 40 hours per week, try keeping the same waking hours. This means staying up a night on your off days to maintain the same sleep patterns you have while on your working days. If you need to run errands and work the night shift, consider completing them on your way home, as most businesses will be opening.

While working long twelve-hour shifts, try to keep a consistent schedule as well. Plan and use your breaks wisely. During your breaks, make sure to use the restroom, drink plenty of water, and eat a snack. This way, you can maintain the same energy levels throughout the day or night.

Plan 

Planning your schedule and activities is vital before working several shifts in a row. To avoid unnecessary stress and improve your mental health, try to plan activities with friends and family on your off days. That way you can spend quality time together and won’t feel rushed to leave work on time. 

Run errands and complete larger household chores on your off days. It’s ok to leave smaller tasks, such as washing dishes, for the days that you work. Also, in case you wake up late in the morning, set out what you will need the night before. If you’re not a morning person or switch to a night shift schedule, take a shower the night before to save time in the morning. 

If you have important events to remember, such as upcoming birthdays or dental appointments, set reminders on your phone. It’s sometimes easy to forget these when you work several shifts in a row or someone’s birthday falls on your scheduled work day.

Key Items To Remember

In addition to planning your activities and your schedule, it’s imperative to remember to pack certain items before traveling to your next assignment. This way you won’t be stressed if you start out working several shifts in a row. Here’s a list of key items to remember:

  • Important Documents: Photo ID, immunization records, nursing certifications
  • Work Items: Scrubs, shoes, stethoscope, pen light, etc.
  • Personal Items: Causal clothes, loungewear, or gym clothes
  • Medications: Prescriptions and over-the-counter medications
  • Toiletries: Shampoo, conditioner, sunscreen, cosmetics, etc.
  • Electronics and Chargers: Phones, laptops, tablets, etc. 

When preparing for your batch of shifts in a row as a travel nurse, there are some items to consider as well.

  • What are the number of shifts you will be working in a row? This is especially important for meal planning and making sure your scrubs are clean.
  • Do you have your meals planned and prepared? As mentioned before, having your meals prepared ahead of time will be a lifesaver, especially if you come home exhausted. 
  • Are you practicing good sleep hygiene? Make sure to get the proper amount of sleep the night before. Consider taking a “rest” day the day before working a batch of shifts in a row.
  • Are there any errands or important items that need to be taken care of? If you need to pay your bills or run errands, do so before working several shifts in a row. Sometimes while working long shifts, it can be hard to remember what items on your list need to get done or you just have a lack of energy after work. This is especially difficult when running errands as a night shift travel nurse, as most businesses and stores are open during the day and closed at night.
  • Do you have everything ready and laid out? Have your clothes, meals, stethoscope, name badge, phone, and water bottle laid out. This way you won’t be scrambling to gather everything before your shift. Also, if you’re driving to work, make sure that you have enough gas in your car to get to and from work for the next several days.

Shift work and working a batch of shifts in a row can be exhausting, so preparation is key. Preparing ahead of time can help alleviate any unnecessary stress. If you are planning to work a batch of shifts as a travel nurse, try some of these ideas and see if they help.

Author Bio

Amanda Marten NP-C, MSN has been a certified nurse practitioner for over three years. With eight years of nursing experience, she has worked in a variety of specialties including urgent care, travel nursing, post-surgical, and intensive care.

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