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How to Survive Working 12-Hour Shifts

Max Freedman
Max Freedman

Long shifts are a strenuous reality of many jobs. If you're struggling to keep up with your schedule or preparing for a new workload that includes long days, there are some important tricks to know.

  • With 12-hour shifts, your physical and mental health may be at risk. Those who work long shifts are more prone to obesity, sleep problems and low energy levels.
  • Certain professions require long shifts due to the on-the-job duties. Examples are truck drivers, nurses and police officers.
  • Taking care of your mind and body will help you get through long shifts. Take breaks, eat healthy, and get plenty of sleep each night to curb the effects of extended shifts.
  • This article is for professionals who work long shifts and want to develop strategies to stay energetic and focused throughout.

12-hour shift health concerns

When you work a 12-hour shift, there are potential concerns for your health and well-being. According to the National Institute of Health, long shifts are associated with medical issues such as obesity, sleep disorders and chronic fatigue.

The issues with shift work are that the person has problems sleeping and finding time to make health a priority. With long shifts, the employee may not have time to exercise on a regular basis. The long shifts also make it difficult to eat healthy and cook balanced meals. Due to time constraints, the person may rely on fast food, which is usually higher in saturated fat and sugars.

If you're worried about impact the work schedule is taking on your physical and mental health, make an appointment with your physician. During a physical, the doctor can let you know of any health concerns. They may also order blood work to check your blood sugar and cholesterol levels.    

Did you know?Did you know? 12-hour shifts can cause potential health issues such as sleep disorders, chronic fatigue, and obesity. 

Types of jobs that require 12-hour shifts

Some jobs require longer hours due to the nature of the work. All employees must be told of shift requirements before job acceptance. There are also regulations in place to protect employees from working extremely long hours. As an example, truck drivers are only allowed to drive for a set number of hours before they are required to take a break.

These are some jobs that often require 12-hour shifts:

  • Truck drivers
  • Nurses
  • Police officers
  • Warehouse employees
  • Power plant workers
  • Dispatchers

Tips on surviving a 12-hour shift

Although a 12-hour shift may be unavoidable due to your company's demands, you can make things easier on yourself. If you're feeling overwhelmed with your schedule, speak up at your place of employment. You should never compromise your health for a job. You can make your 12-hour shift much easier by preparing correctly and making smart choices throughout the day. If you are the business owner or manager, you may want to use employee scheduling software to better plan your staff's time.

To make 12-hour shifts more manageable, follow these steps.

1. Pack your food and eat right.

When you're struggling through a long day, you might want to reward yourself with a sugary snack from the vending machine or a greasy burger from the cafeteria. These momentary pleasures ultimately lower your energy level and spell disaster for your day. If you want to know how to survive a 12-hour shift, the first thing you should address is your diet.

You should pack healthy meals to eat during your shift so you're not tempted to indulge in unhealthy options. Include several small snacks as well. Package these conveniently so you can grab a bag of nuts and an apple or a banana and peanut butter even when you don't have much time to spare. You should focus on high-energy snacks and whole foods that will keep you going instead of dragging you down.

2. Get enough rest.

It's important to get a full night's sleep before a long shift. You should avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine at night so that you can enjoy a restful evening before bed. If you have a break of 20 minutes or longer during work, consider taking a quick nap. Data from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies revealed that a 20-minute nap during a 10-hour shift can improve performance by 50%.

3. Use your breaks wisely.

A lengthy shift can put you under a lot of mental strain. You should make the most of all breaks allowed in your schedule. You could find a quiet spot to meditate and clear your mind, listen to a relaxing track of nature sounds, or read something you enjoy. You should avoid potentially stressful activities, like watching crime drama snippets or reading intense thrillers, where you'll have to stop in the middle of the action to return to work.

4. Take smart supplements.

The right supplements can make a big difference in how well you handle a long shift. Low levels of vitamin D can lead to fatigue. You can get vitamin D from salmon, tuna or fortified food products, but a supplement might be more effective if your levels are low. Vitamin B can decrease fatigue as well. Omega-3 fatty acids contribute to brain cell development and help you stay on top of your game. A well-rounded multivitamin is always a smart choice. Speak to your doctor about the best supplements for your needs.

Surviving 12-hour shifts might be difficult, but you can make these long days easier on yourself by preparing for the challenge. Packing healthy foods, getting enough rest, partaking in relaxing entertainment for your breaks and taking a few smart supplements can make the shift go smoothly.

5. Make friends at work.

12-hour shifts can feel draining and exhausting, perhaps to the extent that you might sometimes need to vent to someone about it or feel otherwise supported. Work friends are the perfect people to meet both these needs. They’ll be with you on the job, and they’ll likely understand your work situation better than your partner or closest non-work friends. That’s because they might be working 12-hour shifts right alongside you.

At the very least, you should try to build a support network among your co-workers so that you can all get through your long shifts together. And if you do wind up spending time with your work friends off the job, these folks might be more okay with your relative lack of free time for socializing. After all, they’re probably living similar lives.

6. Plan for vacation.

There are seemingly countless reasons why you should take vacation, especially if you’re working 12 hours a day. There’s just no better way to refresh yourself and balance your mind and body than getting away from work for a good long while. Even if you love your job, those long shifts will deplete you in ways that perhaps only an extended break can solve. Chances are you’ll return with a clearer mind and better-rested body, so you’ll be more prepared for your lengthy shifts.

7. Adjust your regular days off.

It’s possible that your 12-hour shifts have you working just three or four days a week, so the good news is that you’re off more than two days per week. But the question is, are your off days subsequent, or are they scattered throughout the week? Figure out which option works better for your health and request it. If you get the flextime you want, your days on the job might feel much easier – all it takes is a simple ask.

Image Credit: AntonioGuillem / Getty Images
Max Freedman
Max Freedman
business.com Contributing Writer
Max Freedman is a content writer who has written hundreds of articles about small business strategy and operations, with a focus on finance and HR topics. He's also published articles on payroll, small business funding, and content marketing. In addition to covering these business fundamentals, Max also writes about improving company culture, optimizing business social media pages, and choosing appropriate organizational structures for small businesses.