How I Schedule my Nursing Rotating Shifts

I’ve been dying to make this post because it’s taking me months to figure out what works best for my rotating schedule- days/nights. Right when I accepted my position, I immediately went online to find more about how nurses sleep + juggle life. I couldn’t find anything specific, so I thought I’d write some things that have worked for me! 🙂

While I was on orientation, I followed my preceptors schedule – which was a great way of seeing how a fellow nurse of 4+ years schedule their shifts. And I based my first schedules off of how they did it, and then I finally started to find my own pattern.

Here’s a couple things that I did in the beginning that I quickly realized don’t fit my work-life balance.

Here’s some old things I started out with and what I am currently doing:

* I didn’t clump my 3 shifts in a row – a lot of people do two 12s back to back, a day off, and then another shift. So let’s say you’re day shift that week and it’s not your weekend…you’d work like a M, T, & Thursday or Friday shift. This is nice because breaks are essential, especially working during COVID right now, it’s crucial. But it doesn’t personally work for me; it’s not ideal for my home situation. I want more consistent time with my son so it’s a give and take relationship.

What I do now: I prefer to clump my 12s together. I typically do three in a row, and occasionally, and more recently, I like to do 4 in a row. But I am very burnt out. And 4 in a row depends on how I schedule it. 4 day shifts in a row – hell no. 4 nights? Mayyybe. But I found the golden 4 in a row for me is day shift Thursday & Friday followed by night shift Sat & Sunday. (Also you have to work 3 days per week, so you couldn’t schedule 6 days in a row unless you were cutting into each week, so technically you could only schedule TH,F,Sat,Sun,Mon,Tues if that’s your weekend to work).

I pretty much always work weekend nights so I’ll group my shifts around this and I’ll work a little more to have a more uninterrupted time off. However, this is progressively getting challenging as I am very burnt out now just after two shifts in a row.

What I don’t do: some nurses will do two or three weeks of nights and then flip back to days for a few weeks. I don’t like this because I’d rather adjust a tiny bit every other week or so than staying on nights for a long time. This works better with having a child. I can have somewhat of a normal life 🤪😬

Myths: “it must be great only working 3 days a week” 🙄 I want to cry and laugh at this. Let me tell you…it never is and never feels like 3 days a week.

Being a nurse can be tough. Inpatient nursing is tough! I literally go home to sleep and wake up the next day and do it all over. And usually the day after my shifts, I need to recover + trying to catch up on sleep.

And if you’re on night shift, it’s like working an extra two days. You literally have no life the day after your night shift & you try to nap before your night shift = basically one overnight shift is two days. On top of this, rotating days and nights can be very challenging. Your mind & body get confused. I frequently ask myself what day it is 😂🤷🏼‍♀️

So that is a little sneak into how I schedule my shifts. There are a lot of pros to having a flexible schedule, and sometimes I wonder if I could ever go back to a routined 9-5 job. I still haven’t found what really works for me, and I’m still struggling to balance my work and home life. I only know nursing through a pandemic, so it’s skewed. I’ll continue to adjust and see how I feel.

Some advice:

  • Listen to your body – if working three days in a row is too much, don’t push it. The last thing you want is to be burnt out early on.
  • Gather feedback from your family – how does this affect them? How can you support them while they support you? Working 7am-7pm means you probably can’t take your children to or from school. It adds a lot of stress on the other spouse/finding childcare

How I sleep for night shift:

If I am working only one evening, I will typically only nap for a short while the day of my shift. I’ll rest from around 1500-1700 (3pm-5pm) and head off to work around 1815 (6:15pm) and my shift exchange starts @1845 (6:45pm) When I get off the next morning, I will typically sleep until 1400 (2pm).

If I am working 3 nights in a row, I now know how important it is to rest up ahead of time. I try to get a solid sleep in before my shift. So I’ll sleep from 1300-1700 (1pm-5pm) and repeat what I said above for the day after, however I’ll typically try to extend my sleep until 1700 (5pm) and do it all over. The morning of my last of the 3 in a row, I try to sleep only until about 1400 (2pm) at the latest to try to swing my schedule back to day shift. This can be hard because the following nights I won’t fall asleep until well after 0200 (2am).

This is why I like to do just one night shift here and there. It’s extremely difficult to swing from night to day. Your body and mind get seriously confused.

When I’m on day shift it’s generally pretty straight forward. Shift, shower, eat, sleep, repeat.

Some things that help with night shift & sleeping through the day:

  • Black out curtains 🙏🏼
  • Melatonin
  • Remember that you aren’t lazy for sleeping during the day, but that sleep is your job for that day and it’s a priority. Just like someone at work from 9-5, you’re sleeping because you just worked through the night, and now sleep is your job for the day. (I use to get worked up about this, this weird guilty feeling sleeping while the sun is up. I’d try to get stuff done and be super mom and I got burnt out very quickly. I would try to answer phone calls and texts and I never really rested. Sleep is everything. It’s your job for that day)
  • Beware of caffeine. I use to pound energy drinks when I first started and now I mostly definitely do not – they just made me crash and jittery all evening. I now drink a cup of coffee before my shift/while I get ready and that is pretty much it.
  • Pack healthy snacks to keep your fuel up through the night
  • Invest in a great water bottle and track your intake – I typically try to chug water if I get a break because sometimes I go forever without drinking – eeeekkk that can’t be good?
  • Know when you hit that spot where you’re tired. I typically hit that anywhere from 0300-0400 (3am-4am)
  • Be safe driving home. Not kidding, driving home after an exhausting night shift can be scary.

That’s all I can think of at the moment 🙂 just shoot me an email, comment, or message on Instagram if you have any questions! Would love to hear what other fellow nurses do for their rotating schedules!

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