How to Survive Working a Double Shift

How often have you been approached by your nursing supervisor or nurse manager and asked to work a double? If you’re like me, you’ve been asked more often than you can count on your fingers and toes.

Don’t do a double too often. You can be a team player, but learn to say no. We all love the extra cash, but doing too many doubles can cause burnout. Also, an extra shift or two can put a strain on your personal life, so check in with your relationships outside of work before agreeing to work a double shift. Don’t work doubles before going on vacation, even if you need the money; you will not enjoy your time off. And listen to your body—it will tell you when you’re doing too much.

So how do you survive a double shift? Here are some tips.

Stay Fueled
You’ll need food to keep you energized through a double.

  • Run, don’t walk, to get something to eat! Hopefully you get asked to work a double before the cafeteria closes. If you work in an area with delivery, order enough food for two meals and a snack.
  • Eat healthfully. You don’t want to feel weighed down by heavy, greasy foods or get a sugar rush and then suffer the subsequent crash that comes right afterward.
  • Limit your caffeine consumption. Really! It’ll only contribute to the jitters and acid reflux.
  • Stay away from foods that are known to enhance sleep. These include turkey, bananas, oats, peanuts, milk and carbohydrates. Stick with a high-protein meal or snack to keep your brain stimulated.
  • Spread out your meals by grazing. It’s never wise to inhale your meals when you’re working long shifts. Your body needs continuous fuel, so save the large, heavy meals for when you get home.

Stay Productive
You can’t sleep while you’re moving! Here’s a list of ways to stay busy on a double:

  • Get ahead. Restock med carts, put linens in your patients’ rooms for the next shift, catch up on required education, check your emails or do some research on your patients’ diagnoses.
  • Be thorough. Read through your patients’ charts, check labs, check orders and make sure they are completed.
  • Catch up on your documentation. Now is the time to write detailed notes on each of your patients. Clean storerooms and common areas (we know how dirty a unit can get!).
  • Offer to help your coworkers. They will probably love you for it!
  • Give extra TLC to your patients. With your extra time, you can really connect with your patients. Do all the things that may not get done during a busy eight-hour shift: washing hair, giving a thorough shower or bath, taking a longer stroll in the hallway or just sitting and talking with your patient.
  • Check in with patients’ families. If they’re milling around, spend some time getting to know and understand the family dynamics of your patients.
  • Don’t forget your hourly rounding. If this is your hospital policy, keep rounding! Let the patients know you’re staying for them. They’ll generally take pity on you.

Stay Safe

  • Be honest if you’re not on your “A” game! If you’re yawning, your eyes are watering or you’re rubbing your eyes more than usual, you need to sleep for the sake of your health and that of your patients. Set the alarm on your cell for a quick 15- to 30-minute nap in the break room or in an empty patient room while a coworker watches over your patients. A nap can help to increase productivity and alertness, especially if you didn’t sleep well prior to your double shift. Never assist or do a procedure when you’re tired!
  • Don’t drive if you’re sleepy. You may have heard this before, but I’m reiterating it here: Driving on little or no sleep is like driving drunk! Accidents can happen when you’re exhausted. Experts say that if you’re blinking more than 10 blinks per minute, you’re probably too tired to drive. Other signs of being too tired to drive are yawning, nodding off, watering eyes or if you can’t remember whether you completed routine tasks. If you’re too sleepy to drive, ask family members to pick you up. You can also take a cab or bus. Or consider taking a nap before attempting to drive home, especially if you live more than a few minutes away. Listen to your body’s signals! The life you save could be your own.

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Candace Finch, BSN, RN

Candace Finch, BSN, RN is an orthopedic and bariatric nurse. Candace began her nursing career after the age of 40 and recently completed her BSN from Empire State College Distance Learning. She is a firm believer that it is never too late to reinvent yourself. As a mother of two children with Type 1 Diabetes, she has learned that whatever God gives you can be used to benefits others. She enjoys quiet time with her husband and family, reading non-fiction books, listening to contemporary Christian music and traveling with her daughter to Disney World.

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