Is it normal to be so tired on days off after working 3 12s?

by FNPStudentLife FNPStudentLife, BSN, RN Member Nurse

Specializes in ER nurse, FNP student. Has 5 years experience.

I work day shift in ER, 3 days a week 12 hr shifts. I don't work more than 2 days in a row. While the job itself is tough, I physically feel alright while at work. I wear compression stockings to ease pain to my feet, and I drink max of 2 cups of coffee throughout the day. I come home from work, take a shower, and thats when the fatigue starts setting in. The weird part is that I can't fall asleep. I can be physically exhausted but I can't sleep until 2-3 AM. The next day I wake up at around 10-11am and I'm exhausted all throughout the day. I can barely get myself up to eat, not to mention to do any house chores. The next day off, same thing. I'm so exhausted on my days off, just physically drained. Just wondering if anyone else who works 3 12's feels like this? I was thinking maybe it's the adrenaline, my body gets so tired the first few days that I dont have the energy to get through the rest of the week? Could that even be possible? My husband doesn't get it, he thinks I'm just being lazy :( But I really physically feel like a very old lady. I just want to hear your thoughts if you had this type of experience and if you did, how do you deal with it? PS: Im 26 y.o, no medical conditions.

ruby_jane, BSN, RN

Specializes in ICU/community health/school nursing. Has 13 years experience. 3,142 Posts

You're not lazy. 12 hours is a beat down. Your adrenaline may be jacked up and other chemicals or hormones may be off kilter too. Go see your doctor to make sure. If nothing is wrong hormone-wise, go find a sleep doc. It made the biggest difference for me. My adrenaline was elevating at 2 AM.....I could get to sleep but not stay asleep. I got a prescription and an OTC (and I barely use both now). Good luck.


Horseshoe, BSN, RN

5,879 Posts

I learned quickly not to work three 12s consecutively, but even after the second 12 hour shift, I'd need the next day to recover. I didn't have trouble sleeping, though. I slept like a rock after the second 12.

You may have to give up caffeine altogether, even though it's only 2. The caffeine combined with your adrenaline might be producing a potentiating effect.

Edited by Horseshoe


Specializes in New Critical care NP, Critical care, Med-surg, LTC. Has 10 years experience. 4 Articles; 2,290 Posts

I'm right there with you. I often end up with 3-4 12s in a row and then it takes me at least a day and a half to recover. Yesterday I got home at 8:30am, fell asleep on the couch until 1pm, intended to do some school work but couldn't find the motivation. Puttered around the house cleaning up a bit, then was busy with driving kids for the afternoon. Then last night I fell asleep on the couch about 8pm and never even got up to go to bed, woke up at 2am to go to the bathroom and right back to sleep until 7am.

I know some people really like the 12s, after doing it for almost a year, I'm really not a fan. But, it's my only option for another couple years, so I'll muddle through as best as I can. Good luck, you're not alone.

Been there,done that, ASN, RN

Has 33 years experience. 6,897 Posts

Not normal at the age of 26. Please consult your doctor.

Best wishes.

Nurse Beth, MSN

Specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho. Has 30 years experience. 151 Articles; 2,731 Posts

Agree with Been there, done that. Being tired is one thing, hardly being able to get yourself up is another. Take care.

canoehead, BSN, RN

Specializes in ER. Has 30 years experience. 6,837 Posts

I quite literally run out of brain chemicals when we have busy shifts. At times to the point where I need a day of recovery for every day of work. I ALWAYS need at least 24h. If I push through because I have an event to go to, I still need the rest days afterwards, plus some more. Its easier to just plan on having a pajama day (or two).

subee, MSN, CRNA

Specializes in CRNA, Finally retired. Has 50 years experience. 4,285 Posts

Don't do it anymore if it doesn't work for you. I would prefer not to be cared for by someone working their third day in a row. I'm pretty old but I think there are still 7 days in a week to spread those 3 shifts around:)


Specializes in Neonatal. Has 6 years experience. 58 Posts

Everyone is different. Some of us could work an entire paycheck's worth of hours in less than a week and not skip a beat, while others of us need to spread out our days for the sake of our sanity. I'm kind of in-between. I'm in my mid-30's now, still work nights, stack my days together as best as I can and usually can bounce back within the day (some weeks are easier than others, though).

It sounds like you're doing a good job of keeping yourself cared for except one detail: you didn't mention anything about your water intake. Drinking enough water during a shift is something nurses are notoriously bad at, especially if they work for a hospital that doesn't allow water at the nurse's station. But if you're so fatigued from work on your days off that you're not even taking the time to get rehydrated, that could explain some of your fatigue.

Adopting a fitness regimen might boost your energy level also. Sometimes, literally all I can do to drag my half-dead body out of bed and be productive is the idea that I'll probably feel ok in an hour or so. Our work is not easy, so it's not surprising that you're struggling with energy. Find something that works for you and if it continues to be a problem, perhaps the ED is not the right fit for you.

Davey Do

Specializes in Psych (25 years), Medical (15 years). Has 43 years experience. 1 Article; 10,136 Posts

On ‎2‎/‎1‎/‎2019 at 12:41 PM, ally1991 said:

I come home from work, take a shower, and thats when the fatigue starts setting in. The weird part is that I can't fall asleep.

By all means follow others advice and f/u with your PCP, ally.

But consider this: If you're thinking about anything that is stimulating, you're going to have difficulty falling asleep.

I am 62 years old and work three 12 hour MN shifts in a row and sleep 5 to 7 hrs when on and whatever I feel like when I'm off. My trick is a hot bath after work, one glass of wine with a small meal before I go to bed, a cup of valerian tea on my night stand, and relaxation exercises.

I deep breathe, focus on phosphenes (the blurbs of light you see when you close your eyes) and a mantra, my favorite being the Lord's Prayer. No thoughts- I don't allow thoughts whether good or bad because one thought will lead to another and another and I will end up having insomnia.

This method works for me with a very high success rate. Of course, I do other things like exercise. I exercise at least 20 minutes every day. On days I work, I do ten minutes of weight lifting and ten minutes of aerobic, e.g. an elliptical before leaving for work. This exercise also prepares my body for what it's got to deal with during a shift.

Just some food for thought.

Good luck to you, ally!

Lunah, MSN, RN

Specializes in EMS, ED, Trauma, CNE, CEN, CPEN, TCRN. Has 14 years experience. 33 Articles; 13,715 Posts

I worked bedside in ERs for 11 years, and I was always dragging on my first day off after several 12s in a row. It's a lot!!


RNperdiem, RN

Has 14 years experience. 4,556 Posts

Don't underestimate the mental load factor in fatigue. Are you new to nursing, new to that particular department, or new to the hospital? Any or all of those things makes getting through your workday that much harder.

If the mental stress is part of the fatigue because you are new, then time and experience will lessen the mental fatigue. It gets easier to leave work at work.

It sounds like you have some good self-care routines going. I second the poster who recommended some physical fitness. My daily walk outside is my therapy.