Today, the majority of nurses, particularly newly licensed nurses, end up working 12-hour shifts rather than the traditional 8-hour shift. This often makes staffing easier in hospitals, and hospital managers argue in favor of the great continuity of care for patients. However, even though some love the flexibility of the 12-hour shift, it is not all glamor and downtime. For many nurses, this dreaded shift can pose many real problems and distinct health dangers.

Pros and Cons of a 3/7, 12/24 Work Week

If you are a nurse working 12-hour shifts only three days every week, you have probably had some family members or friends look down on you for working so little. After all, they assume that you are only working 36 hours every week and are taking full advantage of your four days off for great fun and plenty of vacations. On the other hand, they fail to realize just how exhausting this type of shift work can be for you.


  • 12-hour shifts are incredibly exhausting, and your first day off work is usually only good for resting and napping
  • If you have a night shift, you may find it difficult to get back into a daytime rhythm.
  • Depending on your patients or your unit, you may find yourself working 13 or 14 hours at a time, plus a half hour of report time.

Plus, there is an incredibly long list of possible health problems that can result not only from these long shifts but also from rotating or night shifts. Research has shown that those working these longer shifts are typically at increased risk for anxiety and depression, cardiovascular issues, cancer and obesity when compared to the general population.

The Cleveland Clinic has also documented several problems with night shifts and rotating shifts between night and day hours, labeling the potential problems as shift work sleep disorder. Individuals with SWSD may experience regular fatigue as well as insomnia and headaches. Other journals and scientific organizations have shown that shift work can create real and lasting damage on the brain and may even increase mortality.

If you are a nurse who works long shifts or night shifts, you may be wondering what you can do. You may not be able to switch to shorter shifts or to day shifts. However, you can seek professional help if you notice any unusual signs or symptoms, such as headaches, pain or insomnia. In addition, you can work on controlling other aspects of a healthy life, such as eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly with aerobic activity and meditating or practicing deep breathing. In addition, be careful of how much you eat while at work because snacking can be a huge problem. Finally, use your time off work wisely to take much-needed vacations.


Of course, there are some real advantages to choosing (or being stuck with) a 12-hour shift as the case may be.

  • 12 hour, 3-day shifts allow for more flexibility
  • You only have to drive into work three times a week
  • You can group your shifts together to make more time for vacations
  • You may be able to find a better work-life family balance if you have a busy family life.

It may seem like the 12-hour schedule has many more cons than they do pros, and they are difficult. However, those that work hard have time to play hard. Many medical professionals are into extreme sports, for example, and four work-free days allows for a lot of free time to climb mountains and go cliff jumping.

Another big bonus is the ability to take care of your continuing education requirements without having to take a day off work. You can expand your knowledge and skills, as well as make sure that you stay up-to-date with changes in treatment.

As you can see, 12 hour shifts may be hard, but they do have their comps. As long as you treat yourself the right way on your days off, there are some serious benefits you just don’t get on the standard 9 to 5.