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How to survive working 12-hour shifts

How to survive working 12-hour shifts

How do you get through a 12-hour shift? If you’re in a position where you have to work a long shift, you’ll know just how long those twelve hours can feel! In the UK, 12-hour shift jobs are commonly night shifts, and the type of work can include anything from packing, production line, loading or areas of mechanical work.

Whatever line of work you’re in, 12-hour shifts can leave you feeling mentally and physically drained. In this article we give you our tips to help you survive your shifts and maintain your motivation and general health when working those long hours.



Are 12-Hour Shifts Legal

So let’s clear up the legality to start with. Yes, 12-hour shifts are legal, despite them feeling very cruel when you are enduring them. There are specific regulations within industries however. The healthcare profession now has limits worked with its professional body. HGV drivers have a ‘usual limit’ of 9 hours maximum driving in one day (although are allowed 2 days of 10 hours if they don’t do more than 4.5 in one session). Outside of the exceptions however, 12-hour sessions are completely legal.


European Working Time Directive (EWTD)

What about the EWTD? Well this doesn’t prevent 12-hour shifts either. These are the outline of their rulings and they suggest a maximum of 13 hours:

  • The working week cannot average more than 48 hour
  • There must be a day off each week
  • There must be 11 hours of rest in a 24-hour period
  • There must be a break in the working day if it is longer than 6 hours
  • Maximum of 4 night shifts per week with a minimum of 46 hours rest after 3 or 4 sets of nights
  • Maximum shift length of 13 hours

Just to remind you that these rules are still in place despite the UK leaving the European Union as the UK adopted them following.


So what is the Problem with 12-hour shifts

Just because these regulations allow these, they are still hard and some argue are less than ideal for your health. The fact that HGV drivers had these shifts curtailed shows that someone, somewhere recognised how tiring they are and in that way they can be stressful.

So, what do you do?


We have put together a list of some things you might like to consider and work on to help you through those long shifts…..

Advice list to survive a 12-hour shift:

  • Get enough sleep!

This may seem very obvious, but when you are working 12-hour shifts, it’s important that you plan your sleep schedule around them. Remember that 8 hours of sleep is ideal, but 6 hours will also do if you’re struggling to find time for 8 hours. The quality of your sleep is also just as important as the length of your sleep, so ensure that you’re sleeping in a quiet environment with no disturbances if possible.

Your body likes to get into a pattern of what it is doing in the day – it’s called a circadian rhythm. It expects to be awake at certain times and asleep at others and it can be pretty accurate at working those times out. Shift work messes with that and you have to try your best to support it. You may find yourself exhausted physically but unable to fall asleep. Make sure you do the right sleep preparation. Don’t put TV’s on in the bedroom. Make sure the sunlight is as blocked out as it can be, so that it feels like night. Try not to deal with other stressful issues just before bed. Warn friendly neighbours and your family to try and stay quieter for you.

Being well-rested will help you maintain a positive attitude during your shift, and getting enough sleep also plays an integral role in your general health.


  • Stretch regularly

If you have a job, such as packing, where you sit in one position for the majority of your shift and perform the same movements over and over again, you need to prioritise stretching! Stretching will prevent any muscle cramps and prevent long-term muscular issues. Ensure that you stretch your neck, hands and backs if you are spending a lot of time in a seated position. You should try stretching every few hours if possible. After every stretching session, you should feel a little boost of energy, and you re-energise your muscles. The long-term benefits of stretching are truly incredible. There are lots of apps now-a-days to help guide and even remind you about stretches.

Remember whilst exercise is really important it shouldn’t be done just before bedtime. Stretches are fine but strenuous exercise offers a brief period of stimulation so will inhibit sleep for a little while. So, you are fine to do a bit of simple stretches or light yoga before bed but don’t go for a run!


  • Preparation is key.

Preparation is so important when it comes to working long shifts. Organise as much as possible the night before by:

  • Ironing your work uniform
  • Packing your bag
  • Making your lunch
  • Tidying your home
  • Planning your breakfast

This way, getting ready for work will be a breeze, and you won’t leave in a rush or feel stressed as you’re getting ready for work. Having everything organised the night before will bring peace and orderliness to your routine.


  • Bring a healthy, packed lunch.

One of the worst feelings is when you forget to bring lunch to work. Some workspaces do not offer catering services and may not have any affordable restaurants or cafes nearby.  Ensure that you bring a healthy, packed lunch into work each day, which perhaps also includes a little treat for you to look forward to.

Try and get all the food groups into this meal so that you know that you’re getting all the nutrients you need and are prioritising your health. Going hungry on shift could cause fatigue and even fainting.

Food is of particular importance as can become unhealthy when you are doing shift work. Shops may well be closed or you are too tired to get yourself sorted near the time. Consider making a batch of healthy meals that you can freeze and defrost.


  • Make the most of your lunch break.

If you can, try and take your lunch break as late as possible. That way, when you return from your break, you won’t have much longer left to go on your shift. If you take your lunch break early, it can really drag out the day and make your shift feel much longer than it really is.

When on our break, prioritise the things you need to get done if any. Ensure that you reply to any urgent messages on your phone, get enough to eat, and take a few minutes to relax outside of the work environment simply. Go for a walk if you feel you need the fresh air.

Depending upon how close your car is or if there is a quiet room, the opinion on ‘power naps’ is changing. Many now suggest that a short 15-20 minute doze may well help perk you up! Perhaps see if that is how you find it.


  • Stay hydrated.

Not drinking enough water during your shift could lead to dehydration and fatigue. If you battle to remember to drink water, set reminders on your phone and buy yourself an aluminium water bottle so that you always have cold water on you. Give yourself water drinking goals throughout the day and increase them as you reach them.

Drinking water will help maintain your health and energy levels.


  • Keep busy in your spare time.

Depending on what type of job you have, you may find yourself with some time to spare. Keeping busy in your spare time will help your shift go faster. If you’re a nurse, bring a book to read or spend your spare time helping your colleagues. If you’re a truck driver, make sure you have some good music or interesting podcasts to listen to on the road.


  • Have a goal and remind yourself of it.

In the midst of a twelve-hour shift, you may begin to feel very demotivated and question the reasoning for you taking on such long hours. Ensure that you have a goal in mind and remind yourself of it when you begin to feel demotivated. This goal could be simply paying the rent or gaining industry experience so that you can get your dream job in the future. Whatever it is, keep it in the front of your mind, and it will make getting through your shift much easier.


  • Take healthy supplements.

While coffee and caffeine may be tempting sources of energy, they usually give you a quick spike and then will leave you feeling drained the rest of your shift. Opinions vary markedly on health supplements but if you know you are missing our on an area because of your shift work you may wish to discuss it further with a healthcare professional.

Speak to your doctor and see what they recommend for you.


  • Don’t take on too many shifts.

You may have an aim to make as much money as possible, but you should not sacrifice your health. Don’t take on more 12-hour shifts than you can realistically handle, and speak to your employer if you are struggling to keep up with your current shifts and workload. In the UK, you are only legally allowed to work three 12-hour shifts a week, and this is mostly because of health reasons, so take this seriously…especially if you are working multiple jobs. Your health should always come first. For more information on ‘how many 12 hour shifts can I work in a row‘ see our new article.

Summary – Surviving 12-Hour shifts

In summary, we know that 12-hour shifts are probably far from ideal for most people but it seems likely they are here to stay and are suit many people in terms of work-life balance. It is critical to be safe and consider some of the survival pointers we have put forward as options that may support you and your 12-hours.


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