As a pediatric nurse, I know how it is to be on your feet for 12+ hours each shift, and not even get to sit for a half hour lunch. I've been there. To all my nurses out there, I feel you…. Doing the hard jobs, seeing the most heartbreaking circumstances, and sometimes leaving exhausted without ever hearing a simple “thank you” all day. It’s the hardest and most selfless job I’ve ever had, but one I wouldn’t trade. I am so proud to be a nurse.
I have a lot more to say about this (and a longer post I'm releasing soon), but for now, here are my top tips for staying healthy and balanced as a nurse: my tips for night-shift nurses, my tips for day-shift nurses… It's all here.
Who are my nurses out there!?
Night shift was sooo hard for me because I am not a night owl in the least bit. In bed by 10:00, up at 5:30. That’s my routine, and I like sticking to it. So when my entire schedule was flip-flopped around and I was trying to stuff myself with food at 1 or 2 am, it was extremely difficult. I didn’t feel like myself, I lost my appetite or I’d overeat and snack all night long, I got nauseous most nights… the balance was hard. The more shifts I worked, however, the more I found little tips that helped me through it.
1. Treat your night-shift eating routine, just as you would a normal day, but start with dinner and end with breakfast.
I’d usually have dinner either before I left for work, or around 9:00 pm after I got my patients settled… nothing greasy or deep-fried, but something that would keep my belly full and give me energy. I’d continue with a small snack around 11 pm, and lunch between 1-3 am. Again, I’d pack my own stuff. I’d have another small snack around 4-5 am before leaving. Then I’d either eat a quick breakfast right before I left, or I’d eat it when I got home… something small like a yogurt parfait, hard-boiled egg on toast, etc… again, nothing greasy or deep-fried. I’d then go to sleep, and when I woke up, I’d start that same thing over. That way, when I had a day off, I was still right on track with my eating and nothing big had changed. The more you can get into a routine at work, the better your body will adapt.
2. Avoid the cafeteria or look for healthier options!
There’s nothing good in there past midnight… let’s be honest. Waffles, deep-fried corndogs, and leftover soggy salads are something I learned quickly to avoid. Pack your own stuff. Meal prep as a nurse is key! If you don’t come prepared, you are forced to buy something in the cafeteria, and it’s harder to find good options. If you do need a salad, go buy it toward the beginning of your shift while food is more fresh, and stick it right in the fridge to keep cold. Or don't be afraid to ask the chef or server for their healthier options. They'll be glad to show you!
3. Set a timer on your phone during the slow hours, to remind you to move.
2-4 am was usually slower on my unit, and I’d always leave to go run the halls/stairs, do a hallway of lunges, or get up to walk. This little reminder to move will give you a quick energy boost to push you through those final, long hours.
4. Water, water, water!
I know, I know… it’s hard. And I know it’s probably readily available for you on your unit. At 4 am, that Dr. Pepper might be calling your name. But choose to resist! It may be challenging in the beginning, but your body is going to feel better and better as it transitions to water ONLY throughout the night. You don’t need those extra calories containing no nutritional value. Instead, reach for your water and don't be afraid to make your water interesting! Infuse it with fresh fruit or spices for added flavor. Aim for 100 oz. per shift. Snag my favorite water bottle here.
5. Pack healthy snacks.
I can’t tell you how much this has changed the way I feel at work. Not only will healthy, small snacks keep your glucose steady throughout the day, but you’ll be able to avoid falling into the “I’m starving, exhausted, and will eat anything in sight” mode. Some of my favorite snacks to bring to work are veggies + hummus, bananas + peanut butter, fruit leathers, a handful of raw almonds, and fresh fruit + yogurt.
6. Get as much sleep after a shift as possible.
If you don’t already have blackout curtains, you can make them for cheap, or hang a blanket over your window… something to get your bedroom dark. Sleep when you get home, and sleep as long as you can. The bad eating habits usually happen more when you’re tired. So fuel up on that rest, and start your night shift with added energy. I know many of you have kids, and that can be tricky... but if you don't have children or roommates to keep you up, SLEEP! I had no problem sleeping until 4-5 pm, and it served me well.
1. Get in your steps.
If your unit is anything like mine, you’ll get your 10,000 steps in just fine. With that being said, not every nursing job involves a lot of walking. If not, set a timer on your phone to go off every hour, and go for a little walk. Do push-ups at your desk, a minute of jumping jacks… just find time to move. You’ll find that the time between those breaks will become more productive as well. If you have a way to track your steps... on your watch, with an app on your phone, go for the 10,000.
2. Nurses at a desk- look for other options!
If you have a desk job, bring a physio ball to sit on rather than a chair. Involve your core and be aware of your posture and how you’re sitting. If they have an option for a standing desk, take it! Look for more ways to take a break from your chair.
3. Pack your own meals/snacks.
Same as mentioned above. This is the only way to go! Avoid that cafeteria as much as possible, or look at the menu before you go to see what healthier options they may have.
4. HIIT workouts on days you work!
On days where you’re too tired to exercise after your shift (which is probably most work days if they're anything like mine), just fit in a quick 15 minute HIIT workout. (I provide SO many options/videos through my Instagram feed.) These quick workouts will help to keep up your metabolism and fat burn. They'll keep you in shape when you don't have an hour to get to the gym or an exercise class.
5. Get your sleep.
(Same as above.) Sleep is the best supplement. If you work at 7 am, try to be in bed by 10:00 so you can get 7+ hours of sleep before your shift.
6. Meal prep accordingly.
When I sit down to meal prep at the beginning of each week, I always look at my schedule first. What do I have throughout the week? What days do I work? That way, I can plan easier meals for my working days, and be sure to have enough food to take with me.
I hope some of those tips are helpful for you.
To all my nurses out there, I want to thank you for all you do. You give your best every day, so your patients can be their best, and that’s pretty dang awesome. You should be proud of what you do and how hard it was to get where you are. You’re smart, you’re capable, and you are the heart of the hospital, clinic, community, senior center… wherever you work. I send you my love!
And just in case you're wondering, this is how I reallllly feel about my crazy shifts (picture below) ;)