It should come as no surprise to any clinician that the days of $10K contracts are long gone – and those that pay in the range of high $4k to low $5k are often in the 48-hour a week range. Four, 12-hour shifts a week is no easy feat – but returning home after that 13-week contract, with $65,000 in the bank can make it all seem worthwhile.
Is it possible to manage these long (often overnight) shifts and still maintain good emotional and physical health? The short answer? Yes. With a few practical steps, it is absolutely manageable.
1. A small cup of java goes a long way
Way back in 2010, a school in London conducted several trials on the effectiveness of caffeine to improve performance in shift workers. They found that caffeine (either via coffee, pills, energy drinks or caffeinated food) led to a reduction in errors – more so than those participants that took a placebo or a nap.
Try a small cup of coffee mid-shift to get you through the rest of your day or night. A little goes a long way.
2. If coffee ain’t your jam….
Not everyone is all that into coffee, which for some, can leave them feeling jittery and/or anxious. A hot cup of peppermint tea, or even a little peppermint oil on your wrists or neck, might just do the trick to keep you alert and feeling refreshed during a long shift.
A team of researchers at Northumbria University conducted a study on the effects of peppermint (and chamomile) tea and found that it improved alertness and long-term memory. Chamomile tea was found to have a calming effect on participants of the study.
3. Try a bit of exercise
It may seem counterintuitive to recommend exercise while working a demanding schedule, but too many studies to count all show that exercise improves your memory & cognitive thinking skills, helps you get a better night’s sleep, and reduces stress & anxiety. According to Harvard Medical School’s Health Blog – just 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise is all that is needed.
If you just cannot even imagine trying to fit in those 30 minutes on a day you gotta work a 12-hour shift – check out some of these tips in a Tonic article, where medical residents were asked how they survive long (sometimes 24+ hour long) shifts. From fueling with sugary candies, to hoping outside for 5 minutes of fresh air – the answers might surprise you.
4. Eating your way to resilience
Just like the “exercise more” answer should come as a surprise to absolutely no one – so should the suggestion to “eat healthier foods”. A balanced diet and regular eating schedule will help you maintain a healthier sleep schedule, and keep you energized throughout your shift. While it may be tempting to skip a meal, or “fuel” up on a huge slice of cheesy pizza – these tactics will actually add to your feelings of tiredness, weakness, and lead to lower cognitive abilities.
Plan ahead, pack snacks and small meals that are easy to access throughout your shift. Think fruit, veggie sticks, granola bars, yogurt, meat and cheese slices, pasta salad, etc. The trick is to eat several small meals throughout your shift to keep you constantly energized – and avoid entering vending machine hell where that package of chocolate chip cookies always seems to be the answer.
5. Get your ZZZs
We’ve talked a lot here about doing things that will assist you in getting a good night’s sleep and that includes making sleep a priority. We know how tempting it is to “decompress” after a long shift with several hours of TikTok swiping – but not getting enough sleep will have detrimental consequences on your health and your mental well-being. Try to maintain a regular and consistent sleep schedule.
Some experts also recommend (for all you night-shifters) taking a quick 60-90 minute power nap before your shift begins, which can help you be more alert on the job.
Did we miss any?
What are your tips for managing a 48-hour work week?