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  • 20 June 2019
  • 10 min read

How to deal with shift work

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Adapting to working shifts can be really hard and a shock to the system. Claire shares her tips and tricks on how she deals with the demands of working long shifts to make it as easy as possible.

Play video: here's Claire's tips for dealing with shift work.

So, this is it.

You have got your first ever 12-hour shift and you want to know how to prepare for it.

Plan your journey to Placement

Plan your journey, so make sure you have Google Mapped where you're going to go.

If you don't know where you’re going make sure you know where your placement allocation is, make sure you know the address, make sure you know different travel routes, the easiest travel routes both train and tram, driving, walking, cycling in - whatever route or mode is the easiest and quickest and cheapest route for you, do that.

Make sure you do a practice run as well leading up to your placement so you know exactly how long it's going to take you to get to your placement so that you're not late.

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Comfortable footwear

Comfy shoes - oh my gosh, you're gonna need some cloud9 style comfy shoes so you can walk on air for the whole day, otherwise your feet are gonna be in bits!

You might get blisters, it's gonna be horrendous because you are on your feet all day.

During 12-hour shifts you are on your feet non-stop, getting 16,000 steps a day.

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What does a Registered Nurse do?

You're gonna want to walk on air, you're gonna want your feet comfortable because trust me it is hell if you've got a blister or you've got really uncomfortable shoes on out there on placement and you've got another 11 hours to go.

The countdown begins and you're in agony, you're gonna want comfy shoes - trust me!

Two of the top pairs of shoes that I see a lot of students have are from Clarks, they're called unloop and these are what I have.

I find them amazing, they are the perfect shoe, literally. They're very, very expensive from Clark's but they will last you forever, for a lifetime - okay maybe not a lifetime but they will last you a long, long time.

But if you have a factory outlet near you please go there to get them because they're half the price - top tip of the day!

The other shoe that you might want are Skechers.

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I know a lot of students wear Skechers, all black so they meet the criteria.

Have a look at those and see which one you prefer I think, but it's up to you, it's your own feet.

You know your own body, you know what's going to be comfortable and what's not. Just go out there, trial and error, just find the perfect ones for you.

Play video: Claire shares her tips for writing your personal statement!

Rest before your shift

The day before your placement, please, please, please keep it off.

Keep it free, don't do anything other than relax, put your feet up, watch movies all day, completely chill out.

If you have to go to shop, go to the shop, but please just take this day to completely unwind, recharge and get ready for your 12-hour shift the following day.

The night before your shift you're going to want to make sure you sleep properly and hopefully you will.

I know the night before 12-hour shift, and it's your first one you're really anxious, you're really nervous and it's kind of hard to sleep well I think, so just do everything in your power.

Have a nice hot bath of lavender and bubbles and Himalayan rock salt which is amazing, put lavender on your pillow if you like lavender - if you don't like lavender don't do that obviously but just find different ways that help you sleep and help you relax.

Try and avoid eating an hour or two before bed as well. Completely just clear your mind, your stomach, everything.

Shut off all technology so that you can just hopefully concentrate, shut those eyes, count some sheep and get a good night' sleep.

Plenty of foods and fluids Nutrition and hydration.

So you're going to want to take loads of snacks, lunch, dinner, plenty of fluids.

Make sure you take a massive bottle of water or take just a standard bottle of water so you can refill it and just make sure you keep hydrated throughout the day.

Ask the nurse when you get there if there's somewhere you can keep your water bottle, if not keep it in the staff room and just keep going back and making sure that you drink plenty to just help you keep going throughout the day.

Make sure you're packing some healthy snacks as well, things like salads, carrots and hummus, cucumbers, like different vegetables and fruits and you might want to take pasta, rice dishes, all of those sort of things to keep you going.

But just make sure that you have your meals for the day set out because you should get a couple of breaks through the day and you'll be allocated time slots to go and have tea and coffee and things like that.

Also ring ahead to make sure that they've got fridges, microwaves and kettles on the ward that you go into because if not you might want to take some other things that don't need to go into a fridge or microwave to be heated.

I tend to take a snack from a tea break in the morning so it's usually something really unhealthy like biscuits or breakfast bar, sometimes I will take cereal with me or porridge oats or the little tubs of porridge that you can buy and heat up in the microwave.

Sometimes I take those and a little plastic tub to put it in and my own milk, take all of that and then for my lunch break I will usually either make something like a jacket potato, some pasta, I'll make some rice, I'll make some salads, I will sometimes take ready meals with me if I really can't be bothered or haven’t cooked the night before.

Sometimes I will take leftover meals from the night before, so I'll prepare a meal like spaghetti bolognese or stew or something like that and I'll always make sure that I've got some extra for the next day so I'll take it with me.

I know a lot of people sort of meal prep for the week - to be honest, I don't like doing this.

I try and do it but I really struggle because I don't like having the same meals every single day for lunch or every single night, I like a variety so I will try and split it.

Like I said, if I have a meal in the evening I'll split it and have it for lunch or the next day but then I'll make a new fresh batch of something else completely different to have the following day and the following day and so on.

I'll also take things like wraps and sandwiches, crisps, chocolate, fruit, nuts little things like that, dried fruit as well just little snacky things as well so that I've got a snack for the morning then my main lunch and then a bit of a snack like a small wrap or sandwich - is that a snack or is that a meal?! I don't know, I guess that was a snack.

So I have that for my next meal and then when I get home I make a proper dinner before I go to bed, unless I get home really late like I do sometimes and then I don't eat and then I go to bed.

That's really bad for you, please don't do that!

Play video: here are Claire's tips for surviving the night shift!

What Do You Think?

Ask questions, comment and like this article below! Share your thoughts, add your opinion in the comments below.


Get a decent backpack

Just following on from all of the snacks that you're going to take with you, your meals, everything, uniform in your bag - make sure you've got a big enough bag to put it everything in.

I've got this absolutely huge backpack, it's amazing. It doesn't look huge when you put it on your back but its massive, it's got so much room inside.

I managed to fit all of my meals for the day and my uniform, it's absolutely amazing.

I got mine from Costco, it was literally £12 I think, it's more like a sort of mountaineering/ travelers sort of backpack - hang on, let me show you!

So this is literally my backpack. I don't know if you can see, it actually looks massive from here!

It doesn't look too bad I don't think when you put it on, I don't know - you let me know!

No it doesn't look too bad when you put it on but it's so big and I can just fit absolutely everything inside it.

I mean it's not the prettiest of backpacks, it's not flowery it's not Cath Kidston - keep those for university if you want a fashion show but this is nursing, it's not fashion!

I'm gonna go with the easiest, comfortable option that's gonna fit everything in, that's just me personally!

Play video: here's how to revise effectively.

Don't snooze your alarm!!

This tip is just for me personally, it might not be for everybody and I'm probably gonna get yelled at for saying this, but on the morning of your 12-hour shift when your alarm goes off DO NOT SNOOZE!

Literally, shut it off, get up, go get ready because I find when I snooze and snooze and snooze it really affects me and I literally can't do it, it makes me so much more tired than I am and it's hell.

So I literally I set my alarm for 5:00 am, I'm up, I'm ready and gone out of the house by half-past five.

Also I tend not to have a full-on shower or bath in the morning before I go in, I tend to have a wash in the morning and I have my shower or bath in the evening after placement, and that just gives me more time in the morning to get ready and go because I hate faffing about in the morning, I like to just leave the house but I know that's not for everybody and you are that sort of person that needs the slow prompting to get up, but I just need to get up and go!

On a final note, as always I'm gonna say this, I've said it before, which is my little disclaimer; only you can decide how you're gonna survive a 12-hour shift.

Until you get into that routine, until you get into that flow of doing things, what works for you, what doesn't work for you, it's just about finding your feet when you go out there on placement and just making sure that you're prepared for each placement day that you go on or each nursing shift that you are on a 12-hour shift.

It's just about finding yourself and finding how you work, how you do things and what's going to make you cope because we are all different.

What benefits me might not benefit you so it is just about knowing yourself, knowing how you are on these 12-hour placements and just finding your feet, and you're going to be absolutely amazing!

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About the author

I am a Registered Nurse with over 12 years healthcare experience including: elderly care, orthopaedics, sexual health / family planning, qualified GP nurse, transgender healthcare and now in my new role as an assistant lecturer (as of Nov 2022). I believe that nursing gets a lot of bad press, so I create blogs and vlogs to help anyone considering their nursing career and to create positivity surrounding our profession as I'm so passionate about nursing.

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