Plan like you work 12 hours. Combatting the detriment of 12-hour shifts leaves little room for being in denial. You can’t just wish away the potential for exhaustion and the other health drawbacks and proceed to eat, sleep, party and interact with your family members as if you only work eight hours at a time. In fact, Caruso’s study highlighted this conclusion: “The key strategy to reduce these risks is making sleep a priority in the employer’s systems for organizing work and in the nurse’s personal life.”
And remember, while the activity tweaks and self-care can be annoying, it's not just your health that's at stake. As Rose O. Sherman, an RN who holds a doctorate of education, summarized on the Emerging RN Leader blog, "We know from other research that nurses who work 12-hour tours average only 5.5 hours of sleep between tours, and are three times more likely to make errors as opposed to those on 8-hour tours."
Practice good sleep hygiene. This is not going to be welcome news to nurses who work 12 hours and want to live a semblance of a normal life on days off. But to get the best sleep all week long, you really need to try to get in bed at the same time every day, 12-hour shift or not, according to nurse practitioner John D. Cary of Athens Pulmonary Critical Care and Sleep Medicine. “Don’t watch television in bed and try not to eat a few hours before you go to bed since that will keep you awake and you need your sleep,” he advises. “Wind down at the same time every day. And even though it’s super tough at the end of a long shift, don’t fill up on caffeine from coffee, tea or sodas right before you leave for home. Because you’re going to need to sleep when you get there.”
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