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Updated Apr 10, 2024

How to Survive Working 12-Hour Shifts

Protect your physical and mental health to better handle extended shifts.

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Max Freedman, Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Operations
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Some professions, such as truck driving, working in a factory and nursing, incur longer shifts than the traditional 9-to-5 workday due to specific duties and job demands. However, working longer hours ― no matter how rewarding or well-compensated the position may be ― can be mentally and physically exhausting.

Editor’s note: Need employee scheduling software for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you with free information.

Understanding how to manage a 12-hour shift properly can help boost your mood, improve your health and ensure optimal productivity. We’ll look at tips to help you survive 12-hour shifts and share the health and wellness concerns such positions can leave you vulnerable to. 

TipBottom line
If you're feeling overwhelmed with your schedule, talk to your company's human resources department or your direct supervisor to discuss the issue. Speaking up for your health is crucial.

Tips on surviving a 12-hour shift

Although a 12-hour shift may be unavoidable due to your company’s demands or your job’s unique requirements, compromising your health is never an option. It’s crucial to find ways to practice self-care and stave off the negative repercussions of extended work hours. 

Consider the following seven tips to make 12-hour shifts more manageable.

1. Pack your food and eat right.

When 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. However, these momentary pleasures ultimately will lower your energy level and spell disaster for your day. 

Your diet is key to surviving extended shifts. For optimal results, pack wholesome, protein-centric meals to enjoy during your shift so you’re not tempted to indulge in unhealthy options. Include several high-energy snacks and focus on whole foods that will help you maintain your energy levels instead of dragging you down. Package your meals and snacks conveniently so you can access them when you don’t have much time to spare. For example, pack bags of nuts, apples, bananas and crackers with peanut butter. 

FYIDid you know
Management can help promote healthy eating. Encouraging a healthy workplace reduces sick days and absenteeism, so everyone wins.

2. Get enough rest.

Getting a full night’s sleep before a long shift is essential. You should avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine at night to enjoy a restful evening before bed. 

If you have a break of 20 minutes or longer during work, consider taking a quick nap. According to the National Library of Medicine, taking a nap on the job during a break can boost productivity, improve moods and provide cardiovascular benefits.

3. Use your breaks wisely.

A lengthy shift can put you under excessive mental and physical strain. For this reason, breaks are crucial. Make the most of all the breaks your schedule allows to ensure you alleviate as much stress as possible. 

To ensure your breaks refresh you, avoid potentially stressful activities. For example, don’t watch crime drama snippets or read intense thrillers. Instead, take a walk or focus on restful activities that restore and rejuvenate you.  

TipBottom line
Meditation can reduce stress. Find a quiet spot to meditate and clear your mind or listen to a relaxing track of nature sounds during your break.

4. Take nutrient-rich supplements.

The right supplements can significantly affect how well you handle lengthy shifts. For example, low vitamin D and vitamin B levels can lead to fatigue. While eating vitamin-rich foods is always a great idea, supplements can be a quick, effective solution. A well-rounded multivitamin is always an excellent choice while omega-3 fatty acid supplements can contribute to brain cell development and help you stay on top of your game.

You should always speak to your doctor when introducing a supplement regimen. Your doctor can advise you about the best supplements for your needs.

5. Make friends at work.

Lengthy shifts can be draining and mentally and physically exhausting. You may want to vent to someone or seek support and understanding. Work friends who understand exactly what you’re going through are an excellent resource for support.

Your workplace compatriots likely understand your unique, extended-shift situation better than even your partner or closest nonwork friends. When people work alongside you for 12-hour shifts, a unique camaraderie full of mutual understanding ensues.

Make an effort to build a support network among your co-workers to help you get through long shifts together. And if you wind up spending time with your work friends off the job, these folks will likely be OK with your unusual schedule and limited free time. After all, they’re probably living similar lives.

6. Plan vacations.

It can be challenging to determine when to take a vacation, especially when your job is demanding. However, planning vacations is crucial ― especially if you’re working 12 hours a day. Vacations are a great way to refresh yourself, reconnect with loved ones and balance your mind and body. 

Even if you love your job, long shifts will deplete you in ways only an extended break can solve. You’ll likely 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.

Many employees have compressed work schedules where they work longer shifts several days a week. While these alternative schedules can improve work-life balance and provide additional downtime, sometimes your days off can be scattered throughout the week instead of on subsequent days. Having scattered days off can be problematic because you don’t get sufficient downtime and rest. 

If your days off are scattered and you’re not getting the downtime you need, request a schedule change that accommodates at least two days off in a row. Many employers are amenable to flextime arrangements that increase morale and team productivity. 

TipBottom line
Business owners and managers can use the best employee scheduling software to plan their staff's time more thoughtfully and fairly, ensuring sufficient downtime and better meeting employees' needs.

12-hour shift health concerns

Lengthy shifts, such as 12-hour workdays, leave workers vulnerable to specific health concerns. For example, a peer-reviewed study from the World Health Organization and the International Labor Organization found that people who work 55 or more hours a week are at a 17 percent higher risk of heart disease and a 35 percent higher risk of stroke compared to those who work 40 hours a week. 

A lack of sleep and limited opportunities for exercise are two significant factors in 12-hour shift health concerns. Additionally, long shifts make eating healthy and cooking balanced meals challenging. Due to time constraints, these employees may rely on fast food, which is usually higher in saturated fat and sugars.

Business owners, managers and workers should all be concerned about the health effects of 12-hour shifts. Business owners and managers can watch out for their teams and implement measures, such as health and wellness programs, to help them stay healthy. If you’re a worker concerned about the physical and mental health impacts of your lengthy shifts, discuss the situation with your physician. Your doctor can evaluate your health, monitor any concerns and order blood work to determine blood sugar and cholesterol levels.    

Types of jobs that require 12-hour shifts

Some jobs require longer hours due to the nature of the work. All employees must be informed about shift requirements before they accept the job.  

Regulations and labor laws exist to protect employees’ rights and safety ― and the safety of the public. For example, truck drivers are only allowed to drive for a specific 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

Julie Thompson contributed to this article.

author image
Max Freedman, Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Operations
For almost a decade, Max Freedman has been a trusted advisor for entrepreneurs and business owners, providing practical insights to kickstart and elevate their ventures. With hands-on experience in small business management, he offers authentic perspectives on crucial business areas that run the gamut from marketing strategies to employee health insurance. Freedman's guidance is grounded in the real world and based on his years working in and leading operations for small business workplaces. Whether advising on financial statements, retirement plans or e-commerce tactics, his expertise and genuine passion for empowering business owners make him an invaluable resource in the entrepreneurial landscape.
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