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  • 14 May 2021
  • 10 min read

Tips For Working 12 Hour Shifts

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Play video: "How you prepare yourself the evening before your shift, will impact how you wake up in the morning."

ICU Nurse, Zara, offers her advice for working 12 hour shifts and explains how you can learn to embrace them.

Topics covered in this article


Make Sure You Rest The Day Before

Prepare All Of Your Stuff The Night Before

Split Your Shift Into 3 Parts

Rest On Your Breaks And Take Your Break Properly

Food And Hydration

Unwind After Your Shift

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Embrace those long working hours.

Hello everyone and welcome back.

My name is Zara and I'm a Registered Nurse working in the UK.

In today's video, I'm gonna be sharing with you guys important tips for those who are working 12-hour shifts.

For any healthcare professional, Nurses, Midwives, Doctors and so on, 12-hour shift work is our norm, and it does take a little bit of time to get used to.

For those of you who are going into Nursing or Midwifery careers, you will be working 12-hour shifts, especially as a Student Nurse or a Student Midwife.

When I started my Nursing degree, I had never worked a 12-hour shift before.

So, on my first day of placement as a first year student working a 12-hour shift, I cried, I actually cried.

I was tired, I was cranky, I was hungry.

I mean to be fair, that sounds like me on a normal day.

I hated 12-hour shift work.

If there was one thing about Nursing that I could change, it was working those long 12 hours.

I really struggled as a student, to the point where I was looking at specific Nursing specialties, that just did short hours.

When you do qualify, your options do open up a lot more.

You can go into certain areas or certain specialties, where they do work short hours and you do have a bit more of a work-life balance.

However, in those three years where you're studying, you will be doing 12-hour shift work.

Hopefully through this video, I'll be sharing with you guys some important tips on how you can embrace those long working hours.

So, let's get started.

Make Sure You Rest The Day Before

12-hour shifts in fact, start from the night before.

The most important thing when working 12-hour shifts is, getting a good night's rest the day before.

How you prepare yourself the evening before your shift, will impact how you wake up in the morning, your attitude in the morning.

They say you need to aim for about eight hours of sleep.

Make sure you get good rest the night before.

Make a cut off time for yourself, where you switch off your phone and you rest.

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Prepare All Of Your Stuff The Night Before

When working 12-hour shifts, prepare all of your stuff the night before.

And if you guys have watched my vlogs, you will see that I always prepare my food the night before, I put it in my purple container.

And all I then need to do in the morning, is put all of my stuff together in my lunch box, and I'm good to go.

I apply the same principle when it comes to my Nursing bag.

So I put all of my things that I need for my shift in my bag the night before.

That includes things like my lanyard, that includes things like my notebooks, or any of the other things that are essential to me in my Nursing bag.

Another important thing is, ironing your Nursing uniform, your Student Nurse uniform, the night before, so you don't have to do it in the morning.

The whole point in this, is so you're more at ease when you're in the morning. What you need to worry about when you wake up, is waking up on time, making a cup of tea and getting yourself mentally prepared for your shift.

The last thing you wanna do is rushing around, frantically trying to get things together, when those sorts of things can be done the night before.

Split Your Shift Into 3 Parts

Now moving on to the actual working the 12-hour shift.

This took me a bit of time to kind of figure out.

But once I did, I would say, I really embraced actually working those shifts.

As a student, I had this attitude where I felt 12 hours were just far too long for Nurses to work.

It was only when I actually became a Qualified Nurse, did I then change my attitude to, "12-hour shifts are not long enough. We need longer shifts to care for these patients, because there's so much to do." 

I split my 12-hour shift into three parts, morning, afternoon, and evening.

When I start my shift at 7:30, which is when we take handover, I see the morning part of it as from about 7:30 to when I take my first break, which is usually around 10:00, 10:30, or even maybe 11, depending on how busy the shift is.That's my morning.

My afternoon again, is like a four hour block.

So when I come back from my morning break up until about, let's say 2:00, 2:30, even 3:00, if it's really busy.

When I have my lunch break, I then come back and then I see that part as my evening.

So I kind of see it as, these three checkpoints during the day that I need to tick each time.

And once I've got that, I've got it in my head mentally that, "Okay, I've done that part of the shift, I survived the afternoon, I've only got the evening left."

And, it's just a bit of structure.

So yes, keep structure during your shift, and a great way of achieving that, is splitting it into parts that work for you.

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Rest On Your Breaks And Take Your Break Properly

I have always emphasised this, and I will continue to emphasise this.

Because, this is where we fail when it comes to looking after ourselves, as healthcare professionals.

Nurses have the skills to look after others, and yet we're not very good at looking after ourselves.

It's a weird thing, but I am also guilty of this, and I have a lot of my close friends calling me out on it, my family definitely call me out on it.

So I have set this as a principle, that when I'm on my break, and when you are on your break, you are on your break.

There're so many of my colleagues, till this day, experienced Nurses, who cut their break short.

In doing so, they don't finish their food, they don't drink enough water, they're not allowing their body to rest.

I was guilty of this for a long time, I was not taking my breaks properly.

And I found myself being in, unfortunately, a very terrible mood.

I found myself being very cranky, and that's not how I wanna work.

And that only impacts your work.

So, take your break properly.

Food And Hydration

Pack nutritional foods into your lunchbox.

Avoid sugary snacks, cakes, biscuits, chocolates.

Nurses will not hesitate to grab at any chocolate box we see, any packets or crisps, or anything sugary, because we're so tired on our shift.

We just, we treat ourselves.

But unfortunately, we take it a bit too far.

Try your best to cook your own food at home and take it with you.

That's something that I enjoy doing.

And I only kinda eat in the canteen once in a while as like a treat, like, you know, fish and chips on a Friday, got to embrace that British culture.

But try and avoid making it a habit.

I'm tying into this as well, water.

Water is so important.

And like I've said before, we are notorious for not drinking enough water.

And that's only because of how busy we are.

And especially now with PPE where, we can't take our masks off during the shift to drink water.

But that means even more so, when you're taking your break, you need to drink lots of water.

So make sure you got a water bottle with you.

And what I like to do is, I like to drink the full water bottle, then top it up and then drink that again.

You only have two to three breaks, if you're lucky.

So really, that's only two opportunities.

So, force yourself to drink water, especially if you're in high risk COVID environments, where you're wearing PPE for long periods of time, very important to stay hydrated guys.

Unwind After Your Shift

My last key point.

This is all to do with, after your shift.

You also need to learn to unwind after your shift.

Whilst we are contracted to work 12 hours, really, we're on our feet for about 15 plus hours.

I wake up at 5:30 in the morning.

And by the time I'm home, traveling, I've showered, I've eaten and I'm actually in bed ready to go to sleep, it's about 10:30.

So your days are very full on.

One thing that helps me, is reflection.

And I also like to do these little, like self-care routine tips.

That, when I go home, I listen to music or whatever I feel like listening to at the time.

You need to find what works for you in unwinding after your shift.

So, that is all from me guys.

12-hour shift work is intense.

But, with the right measures, with the right mindset, with the right attitude, you will learn to embrace them.

And this is the nature of our job.

And trust me, when you start to gain confidence, when you start to develop as a Nurse, you will appreciate just how precious every minute of those 12 hours are, when you're caring for your patients.

And you know what?

You may even find yourself saying, that you don't think 12 hours is enough, I am guilty of that.

If you've got any questions, then do leave comments down below.

Give this video a like if you learned something and if you enjoyed it.

And share this with any of your colleagues, your course mates or anyone who you know works 12 hours and may benefit from this video.

Want to know the average salary of an ICU nurse? Click here

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About the author

My name is Zara and I am a NHS Registered Nurse. I am a Surgical Nurse by background and was recently redeployed to an Intensive Care Unit to care for Covid-19 patients. I am now a trained mentor and actually supervising Student Nurses going into practice.

    • Laura Bosworth
    • Matt Farrah
    • Aubrey Hollebon
    • Mat Martin
    • Richard Gill
    • Brenda Walcott
    • Shakilah Millian
  • 3
  • 7339

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    • Jane Stringer 2 years ago
      Jane Stringer
    • Jane Stringer
      2 years ago

      I've worked 12 hour shifts for 14 years so you do learn to adjust and like you said, some days ... read more

    • Brenda Walcott 2 years ago
      Brenda Walcott
    • Brenda Walcott
      2 years ago

      Thanks for this Zara, I find this piece really interesting as I struggle with 12 hour shifts and feel that ... read more

    • Julia Orege 2 years ago
      Julia Orege
    • Julia Orege
      2 years ago

      Great article Zara , with alot of practical advice, especially regarding good preparation the night before. I would add that, ... read more