You might not have heard the term “long haul” nursing shifts before, but everyone in the profession comes to know it well. This year, many nurses have had to deal with them. A long-haul nursing shift usually runs twelve hours, though sometimes even longer than that.
Even if you’re not a nurse or part of the medical field, you should know a little about this practice and what it can do. We’ll talk about it in this article, so you understand it better.
They Can Cause Sleep Disorders
If you’re a nurse and work for a facility that requires long haul shifts multiple times each week, it can disrupt your sleep schedule. You might work at:
- A hospital
- A nursing home
- An assisted living facility
The National Institute of Health reports that 1 in 3 adults do not regularly get the sleep they need for proper health. Nurses who have to do long haul shifts certainly experience sleep disruption.
Doctors say adults should get 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night, but that’s tough when you’re working twelve-hour shifts four days per week or more. As a nurse, you might have to put in twelve hours, then go home and look after your kids, cook meals, clean the house, etc.
It’s not sustainable, which is why so many nurses are struggling this year.
The National Institute of Health Has Recommendations
The NIH does have some advice for nurses who are working multiple long haul shifts every week. They tell them to:
- Have some quiet time for one hour before bed
- Avoid caffeine and nicotine
- Avoid excess alcohol
Nurses who have to put in long haul shifts can avoid screens like TV and looking at their phones for an hour before they try to sleep. That will get their brains ready to shut down more easily.
They can also try to avoid either nicotine or caffeine. Both are addictive, and if nurses smoke or vape, they can use a patch or gum to try and kick the habit. As for caffeine, they might need it to get through a marathon twelve-hour shift, but they should try not to drink any for at least 3-4 hours before bedtime.
The NIH also says that these nurses should avoid alcohol right before bedtime. Alcohol works against your body to keep it awake, even though the opposite sometimes feels true.
Long Haul Nursing Shifts Can Cause PTSD
Most people know about PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder. They think about combat veterans, and while these individuals do develop it sometimes, nurses and medical professionals can as well.
PTSD is similar to burnout syndrome, or BOS. With both of these, nurses struggle to work their regular shifts, let alone twelve-hour shifts three, four, or five times per week.
If they have the symptoms, they might make a mistake because they are going on too much caffeine, not enough healthy sleep, and too much stress. They could administer the wrong medication or make a similar fatal mistake.
That is why most hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities have rules against too many long-haul shifts. The only problem is that this year, these facilities have had to modify or ignore many of their own rules. They don’t have enough nurses, and there are too many patients to handle.
Covid-19 is Causing More Nurse Shortages and Long-Haul Shift Requirements
Covid-19 is the reason why so many nurses are dealing with long haul shifts this year. The virus is sending more patients to the hospitals, and each one needs attention and treatment. There are not usually enough beds to go around, which means patients might be in hallways or other unsuitable areas.
The nurses feel considerable stress while they go about their days and nights. They might have to put in twelve hours at a time, or even fourteen or sixteen. They must turn families away because it is not safe for them to be in the same room as a dying relative.
These front-line workers have little choice but to put in long haul shifts at this point, but they can’t keep going forever. Nurses are praying for the vaccines to arrive quickly and for President-elect Biden to implement a nationwide mask mandate to slow the virus’s spread.
Long Haul Shifts Are Causing Some Nurses to Think About Leaving the Profession
Nurse interviews indicate that some of them are at their breaking point. It is the pandemic and long-haul shifts that are causing their distress. They know they can’t quit right now because society needs them, but some of them feel like they’ll look for other work as soon as the public health crisis has subsided.
It’s hard to blame them. Nurses know they’re getting into a profession that is thankless sometimes. They have to give of themselves every day, and they don’t always get the recognition they deserve.
The pandemic has caused nearly every one of them to go above and beyond, though. It’s not surprising to know that many feel like they’ll need to go into an alternative medical field area when this is over, or they might look for something entirely different.
Families of individuals who are in the hospital right now with the coronavirus should profusely thank the medical professionals who take care of them. They are pushing themselves to the brink right now, and long-haul shifts are just one of the ways they are trying to fight this unprecedented situation.
If you have a nurse in your family, and they are working multiple long haul shifts each week, help them out any way that you can. If you know they’re going to be getting home late, cook dinner for them and have it waiting. Clean up the house, so they don’t have to do it.
We should get the pandemic under control at some point, but until that happens, nurses are experiencing a crisis. We should acknowledge and applaud the fantastic job they’re doing.