12 Hour Shift Work Schedule

For most people today, the typical workday no longer consists of a “9 to 5” schedule.  Nurses, for example, typically work a 12-hour shift (7am – 7pm or vice-versa).  People working the night shift may begin at 11pm or midnight, and they are getting ready for bed at 9am.  Our internal clocks are geared for nighttime sleep and daytime activity, so by working through the night or working overtime, our sleep schedules naturally become disrupted. A sleep schedule for working nights is difficult to pin down.

12 hour shift work schedule

A study conducted by the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Reporting System (PA-PSRS) showed working a 12-hour shift or working overtime was related to having trouble staying awake during the shift, reduced sleep times and nearly three times the risk of making an error. The study also indicated the “most significant” error risk seen was when the nurses worked 12.5 hours or longer (See Rachael Zimlich, “Reconsidering The 12-Hour Shift For Nurses” 2014, Healthcare Traveler at.)

Many people work long hours out of necessity because there are staffing issues.  When businesses are short-staffed, employees become burnt out, fatigued, and unhappy (with their job and life in general).  Hospital employees especially are at risk for on-the-job accidents, and patients may face compromised care.  The most common errors made in the healthcare field due to fatigue are medication errors (wrong dose, extra dose, etc.)

Fact: Approximately 75% of nurses work 12-hour shifts. 

The American Nurses Association (ANA) recommends that nurses who work a 12-hour shift be allowed to leave on time instead of staying over for staff meetings or educational requirements. ANA also urges hospitals to offer support to nurses in a position to experience fatigue by offering breaks away from patients during their shifts.

Night nurse illustration

Unfortunately in many cases, employees are told that overtime is mandatory. Especially in understaffed hospital settings, nurses can be intimidated by their superiors and told that they will be fired or reported to the Board for non-compliance.

 Fact: On average, nurses work 8.5 weeks of overtime per year.

In addition to the physically draining nature of a nursing job, including exposure/health risks, there is also an overwhelming amount of paperwork and administrative duties that follow.  The American Hospital Association found that for every hour of patient care, 30-60 minutes were spent on the subsequent paperwork & follow-up protocols.

According to a Peter D. Hart Research Associates study (April 2001), the top reason why nurses leave patient care, besides retirement, is to seek a job that is less stressful and less physically demanding (56%). The Hart study also found that a significant number, 22 percent, are seeking more regular hours; 18 percent desire more money; and 14 percent want better advancement opportunities. When asked what the biggest problem with nursing is, respondents who were in active nursing practice cited understaffing (39%) and the stress and physical demands of the job (38%).

Because non-traditional work schedules are becoming more common and more accepted, we need to make sure that we take care of ourselves and get enough sleep.  Otherwise, we run the risk of sleep disorders, autoimmune dysfunction, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and a domino effect of other chronic health problems. For tips on getting enough sleep, please check out our FaceBook page (click here)


The Institute for Nursing Healthcare Leadership, “Work force challenges in the 21st century: Implications for health-care and nursing,” April 2001: 15.


“Reconsidering the 12-hour shift for nurses” July 2014.