surviving a shift with chronic pain

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I deal with chronic pain and fatigue every day of my life. I also work 12-hour shifts as an RN on a busy progressive care unit at least 3 days a week. Over time I have discovered key elements to surviving those long shifts–today I’m sharing them with you!

Don’t work night shift!

If at all possible, avoid working the night shift. When I started my current job, I was required to start working the night shift. I then put my name on a list to move to day shift when a spot became available. I had to work nights for about 5 months and it was awful for my body. I developed terrible eating habits and literally slept all of the time. When I finally moved to day shift, I was amazed at the major increase in energy and decrease in pain. Working the day shift hasn’t fixed everything, but now I can at least function outside of work.

If you have to work nights, try to maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Invest in a good set of blackout curtains and coordinate with your partner/roommate so that you get the uninterrupted sleep that you need.

Pace yourself

I learned early on that I don’t do well working more than 2 shifts in a row. I do my absolute best to avoid working 3 or more shifts in a row. I’m lucky to work at a job where I can pretty much pick the days I want to work in a given week. I’ve discovered that only working 2 days in a row is much easier to for me to recover from. Figure out what works best for your body. This may mean only working one shift at a time, or you may figure out that it works better for you to work your 3-in-a-row and then relax on your other 4 days off.

On this note, plan your recovery period. It seems like even if I only work one shift, I need the whole day after to recover. This means sleeping in and taking at least one nap on my recovery day. I don’t plan on running errands or cleaning anything on my recovery day–I just rest and recover. Don’t be afraid to say “NO” to activities on your recovery day. My husband has quickly learned not to expect anything from me on my recovery days and is even kind enough to hang out with me in bed on occasion!

Take your lunch break (and enjoy it!)

That precious 30-minute lunch break during your shift is essential for your body and your mind. I’ll be honest, I hate talking to co-workers during my break because we usually end up chatting about our jobs. My favorite way to chill during lunch is to stream a short show on my phone and plug in my headphones. I pick a comedy show that makes me laugh and lets my brain just vedge for a while.

I also try to make lunch easy. I love those canned soups that I can just heat up in the microwave. I try to pick something high in protein (lentil, split pea, etc) to last me through the rest of my shift. Plus then I don’t have to worry about meal prep the night before!

Cluster your care

This is probably what helps me most during my shifts. After I get report on my last patient, I take their vital signs before I leave their room to get one set out of the way. Then I go sit down at the nurse’s station for at least 10 minutes, look over my orders, write down all my meds, and plan my day.

I try to knock out everything I can while I’m in the patient’s room. If I have meds due at 0800 and 1000, I try to just bring all those meds to the patient around 0900, knock out my assessment, and ask my patient about any other needs at that time (refill water, bathroom, pain, etc). I also learned from another nurse to put a sticky note on my badge to take notes on while I’m in the room. Then if I notice that I need to change IV tubing or grab a new bag of fluids, I can jot that down on the sticky note. Before I go back into a patient’s room I double check my sticky note and take care of those things while I’m in the room. Not only does this keep me from going in the patient’s room 15 times an hour, it gives me a bigger chunk of time to just sit down and chart.

Basically, anything I can do to conserve energy the better.


Do you have any tips and tricks to get through your work day? I’d love to hear about them!



  1. Many of these are great tips for nearly profession! Thank you for sharing them!

    I don’t know if you do blogging awards, but I nominated you for the Unique Blogger Award. I know a lot of people don’t participate in these, but my main objective in “nominating” you was so more people can find your blog! If you do choose to participate though, I would love to see your response (more info on my blog page). 🙂


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