Every nurse has heard the tired phrase: “You only work three days a week? That must be amazing!”. It is true that “only” three days a week seems great, but the reality is fitting in anything besides work on those three shift days can feel next to impossible. Travel Nurse, Alex McCoy suggests trying to add in something that requires not just regular energy but extra energy like exercise. It is easy to see why many nurses throw in the towel before they even attempt to come up with a workout routine that fits into days they are working.
You could opt to only workout on your days off, but if you work 3-4 shifts in row the extended time off can drastically affect your motivation or momentum if you are working at getting back into a routine. Or you might just want a true day off without feeling obligated to go to the gym or base your day around a workout class. “I refer to fit my workouts into my work week if I know I have a trip or social events planned on my days off. I know many other nurses who feel similarly,” says McCoy.
After playing around with my schedule I have come up with some great tips to fit a workout into your long work day (or night). A lot of these are based on building habits, but after a month or two they become easier and more ingrained to the point where they feel much easier than when you first begin.
Decide if you want to work out before or after your shift
Not someone who bounds out of bed in the morning or afternoon? Maybe pumping yourself up at the end of your shift is a better approach. On the other hand, if you know you are prone to make an excuse, I suggest working out before your shift. As nurses we can often use emotionally or physically draining shifts as an excuse to indulge in less-than-healthy behavior. So, set yourself up for success by planning a workout when you know you will be most likely to get it done.
Try working out before shifts one week, then after your shifts the next week. Gauge yourself based on how successful you were each week to help you figure out which schedule works best for your lifestyle.
Don’t over complicate your workout
Gym sessions before or after a 12 hour shift might not be your absolute best so start with the goal of just getting there. Get in a 15 minute jog, a light yoga session, or a few bodyweight exercises
By programming your brain to get up a little bit earlier or stay up an hour or so past your shift, you will start to retrain your sleep pattern and can build upon this habit. I truly never thought I could work out before a night shift, but once I got in the habit I was hopping out of bed at 3 pm as opposed to 5 pm without hitting snooze ten times.
Be strict with your sleep
Get yourself on a regimented pattern for work days. My absolute minimum is six hours of sleep, but I always try to do better. Since exercise is a priority, I don’t plan other events or errands in between shifts unless it is a special occasion. I go straight home, eat dinner, relax with a book or Netflix and have a strict bedtime.
If going to bed at an earlier time is a struggle at first, start by having a “lay down” time. This means get into bed, put away your phone, and start to relax. Try lavender oil on your pillow or music to help you relax. Giving your brain that extra time to turn off can help ensure that you are actually able to fall asleep at a decent time and get the rest you need.
Give yourself a little boost before you work out
I am not saying taking a pre-workout or drinking a caffeinated beverage is 100% necessary to get a good workout, but it can definitely help get you over the initial exhaustion phase. If you find your constant excuse to not work out is simply feeling too tired, try drinking a pre-workout or cup of coffee about 30 minutes prior to your planned workout time. Put it directly on your night stand if your goal is to workout right after you get up, or bring a scoop to work in a plastic bag.
There are also stimulant free pre-workouts on the market if you are sensitive to caffeine. These use other natural ingredients to help you feel more energized and as a result you will be less likely to want to fall back asleep.
At the end of the day, just start doing something!
Like I said before, long work days don’t need to come with the added stress of a complicated workout. Start small and work your way up. Begin building small habits you can grow, and congratulate yourself when you are successful with these small changes. Working long shifts can be exhausting, but putting your personal health first is important as well. If you are struggling, don’t hesitate to reach out or join our community of over 1,000 healthcare workers sharing their similar struggles and triumphs!