Does the 12-hour nursing shift cause burnout? - Nurse Diary (2023)

  • It was only in the 1970s that hospitals introduced the 12-hour shift to counteract the nationwide nursing shortage.
  • The 12-hour shift for nurses is attrition due to the long hours, heavy workload and low social support.
  • Strategies for getting through 12-hour shifts include taking breaks, self-care, and rotating shifts. 12-hour shifts can also benefit school returnees.

ÖAmerican Association of Colleges of Nursesreports that 55% of nurses work in hospitals. Most of these nurses work 12-hour shifts.

Many nurses love 12-hour shifts because they offer flexibility and work-life balance. But does working 12-hour shifts also lead to burnout?

Studies on nursing and burnout consistently report that a combination of high workload, poor job control, inadequate social support and long hours in nursing can lead to burnout.

Learn how nurses can take control of their workday, leading to a healthier work-life balance.

History of the 12 hour shift

The nursing profession has a long traditionlack of care. After World War II, nurses left the profession citing low wages, poor working conditions, and a lack of respect. Nurses demanded better pay, better benefits and a 40-hour week.

It wasn't until the 1970s that hospitals introduced the 12-hour shift to counter the nationwide shortage.

The new longer shifts gave nurses a better work-life balance and fewer hours during the week. He also provided patient care.

For hospitals, the 12-hour shift meant less overtime pay. They were also less dependent on agency nurses to fill the shortage.

It was a win-win situation.

The 12-hour day is still used today to encourage nurses to stay in the profession and continue working in hospitals. Karen Donofrio, RN, MSN agrees.

"I wouldn't be a nurse if I had to be there five days a week. I think 12-hour shifts keep an eye on bedside nurses,” says Donofrio.

But after decades of caregivers working 12-hour shifts, research has found that many suffer from fatigue, sleep deprivation and burnout.

(Video) Nursing Burnout: What Can We Do?

Donofrio has been working 12-hour shifts for over 15 years. While the 12-hour shifts have allowed her more flexibility and less babysitting, she recognizes the downsides of long shifts.

"It's a very long day that is physically and mentally demanding," says Donofrio.

How 12 Hour Shifts Can Cause Burnout

Defined burnout

  • Feelings of lack of energy or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from work
  • Feelings of work-related negativism or cynicism
  • Reduced professional effectiveness

Those:World Health Organization

Sarah Corallo, RN, AE-C, felt burned out from years of working 12-hour shifts. She describes how she feels physically exhausted and emotionally drained.

"I was afraid to go to work because I knew how tired I would be by the end of my shift," admits Corallo. "I was getting frustrated because I was starting to lose interest in my work, even though I absolutely loved my livelihood."

with the flowNursing shortage in all federal states, many hospitals are understaffed and nurses do not have adequate breaks, Donofrio emphasizes. This is another reason nurses burn out.

“During a 12-hour shift there is often no time for self-sufficiency. A nurse cannot take care of the needs of multiple patients if [their] basic needs are not met,” says Donofrio.

While the longer shift is popular with caregivers, 12-hour shifts come with long-term health risks. Research shows that continuous exposure to stress takes a toll on the body and affects mental health, leading nurses to feel the effects of burnout. Nurses who work 12-hour shifts are more likely to report feeling:

  • Emphasize
  • fatigue
  • Depression
  • Angst

Corallo worked 12-hour shifts for over 15 years. She has now switched to an eight-hour shift.

“The 12-hour bed shift was definitely more tiring than my 8-hour office shift. Even after a year, I still feel like I'm working half a day," says Corallo.

Working "three days straight," a term coined by nurses to mean working three days straight, is also associated with burnout. Corallo points out that a 12-hour shift isn't just a 12-hour day. It's more of a 14- to 16-hour day when you factor in prep and commute time. This can equate to working more than 40 hours in three days.

“These days are long in a hospital. Sometimes it only happens when it's dark, and when it's dark it just contributes to mental fatigue," says Corallo.

A 12-hour shift is exhausting, especially when it comes to nursing.

(Video) How to Avoid Early Nursing Burnout

"Nursing is physically and emotionally demanding, and 12 to 13 hours in your ward takes its toll on both body and mind," Corallo points out.

find studiesthat nurses who work more consecutive days have an increased risk of injury. Shift work or night work from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. is also associated with a higher risk for:

  • Higher body mass index
  • obesity
  • poor diet
  • less movement
  • Disruption of the circadian rhythm
  • cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Back, knee and shoulder pain

Caregivers need to be aware of these risks. With long shifts, they need to make a plan and recognize when their health is being compromised.

Benefits of 12 Hour Nursing Stories

Working 12-hour shifts has advantages. Free days during the week are a big bonus. Knowing that you can have back-to-back days off will help you plan your life and regain some much-needed rest. Another benefit is spending more time with family, especially the kids.

Corallo points out that being home more days a week and only having to take care of and pay for childcare 2-3 days a week was a huge benefit when she had young children.

Corallo was also able to finish school by working a 12-hour shift.

"It allows flexibility for clinics and other lesson plans," says Corallo.

How to survive a 12 hour nursing shift

If you're a new nurse or a nurse deciding to work at the hospital, you may not have the luxury of choosing your shift. If you work 12-hour shifts, here's some advice on how to survive.

  • take your breaks

    If your installation offers breaks, take them. Get off the device and decompress whenever you can. "Make your days off easy and find time to do things that will help you recharge for the next shift," says Corallo.

    Know the laws of your state. Here is a list of labor laws for meal statein the private sector.

  • Divide up your days

    It's a good idea to stack your workdays but have at least 2-3 days off after consecutive workdays. When you're off duty, Corallo recommends making time to pursue hobbies, exercise, or activities that make you feel good.

    (Video) Would I Choose Nursing Again? | Nursing Burnout | Perspectives of Multiple Nurses
  • listen to your body

    Becoming self-aware takes time. But once you start paying attention and listening to your body, you'll feel confident enough to say "no." Use those extra hours to plan if you need to charge.Self-help for caregiversIt's a great way to help you recharge your batteries.

  • change shifts

    If you're feeling the effects of burnout, moving to another shift isn't a bad idea. Nursing jobs have 8 and 10 hour shifts. If you can, work part-timenursing jobs per day. A temporary or permanent shift change can have a positive impact on your physical and mental health.

  • do your masters

    Many nurses choose to go back to school to pursue a master's degree to expand their shift options. Many nurses choose to become Nurse Educators or Nurse Practitioners (NPs).NPs are one of the fastest growing professionsToday, therefore, becoming an NP is a surefire way to control your hours of work.

    You can negotiate your shift times, salary and benefits. To get full control over your shifts, consider opening yoursown practice as a nurse.

Get to know our employees

Does the 12-hour nursing shift cause burnout? - Nurse Diary (1)

Karen Donofrio, RN, MSN, CPEN, TNCC

Karen Donofrio has been a pediatric nurse for over 15 years. She has a Masters in Nursing Education. She is also a Certified Pediatric Emergency Nurse and Certified Accident Nurse Basic Course.

(Video) 4 Tips To Avoid Nursing Burnout

Does the 12-hour nursing shift cause burnout? - Nurse Diary (2)

Sarah Corallo, RN, AE-C

Sarah Corallo is a certified asthma nurse and educator. She worked 16 of her 17 years as a nurse in a large children's hospital. Corallo has experience in pediatric psychiatric nursing and pediatric emergency and trauma care. His true passion is community health and injury prevention. She currently works as a school nurse at a local elementary school and loves every minute she spends with her little patients.


Burnout an "occupational phenomenon": International classification of diseases. (2019).

d'Ettorre G et al. (2019). Evaluation and prevention of back pain in caregivers. Consequences for practice management.

Minimum Meal Length Required by State Law for Adult Private Sector Workers 1. (2022).

Technical care leaflet. (2022).


Is the 12 hour nursing shift causing burnout? ›

It wasn't until the 1970s that hospitals introduced the 12-hour shift to combat a national nursing shortage. The 12-hour shift for nurses causes burnout due to long hours, heavy workload, and poor social support. Strategies to survive 12-hour shifts include taking breaks, self-care, and changing shifts.

Are 12 hour shifts bad for nurses? ›

Research supports that 12-hour shifts can negatively impact a nurse's health. Among the adverse effects include cognitive anxiety, insomnia, muscular-skeletal disorders, and role stress. Nurses who work long shifts are more prone to anxiety and depression.

How do nurses survive 12 hour shifts? ›

One of the most underrated ways to survive a 12-hour nursing shift is to fuel your body well. Running through a shift on an empty stomach or without substantial food can wear you down quickly. Meals that provide long-lasting energy make a big difference. Packing meals also saves money in the long run!

Is working 12 hour shifts bad for your health? ›

When you are working for 12 hours there is often little time before, during and after your shifts to eat healthy meals or exercise properly. This combined with fatigue and other adverse factors can result in some serious health risks including depression, anxiety and insomnia.

Are 12 hour shifts worth it? ›

Workers on 12-hour shifts never work more than two days in a row, reducing problems of stress and cumulative fatigue. Less commuting required. Fewer days at work mean fewer days of driving to and from work. This represents time saving and reduced transportation costs for employees with longer commutes.

Why 12 hour shifts are better than 8? ›

There may even be advantages to 12 hour shifts in terms of lower stress levels, better physical and psychological wellbeing, improved durations and quality of off duty sleep as well as improvements in family relations. On the negative side, the main concerns are fatigue and safety.

How do I recover from a 12 hour shift? ›

The 5 best ways to wind down after a 12 hour shift
  1. Listen to some relaxing music.
  2. Have a long shower or bath.
  3. Eat healthily.
  4. Read a book.
  5. Sleep.
Aug 8, 2016

Is being a night shift nurse unhealthy? ›

One of the top disadvantages of being a night shift nurse is the adverse effects it has on your health. A common problem among night shift nurses is their propensity to develop health issues, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, due to metabolic changes that result from lack of sleep.

What are the pros and cons of working 12 hour shifts? ›

Each comes with its advantages and disadvantages. 12-hour shift benefits include greater continuity, an increase in employee knowledge, and better collaboration. There is also a greater work-life balance because there are more continuous days off. 12-hour shifts can be tiresome and cause workplace fatigue.

What is the best shift to work as a nurse? ›

For some, the night shift is a preferred choice, as it offers nurses the opportunity to have free time during the day hours. Like the other types of shifts, night shifts have a 12-hour shift, which may be scheduled between the hours of 7 pm and 7 am. An 8-hour night shift may be between the hours of 11 pm and 7 am.

How far does a nurse walk during an average 12-hour shift? ›

A nurse can travel upwards of 4 miles during an average 12-hour shift; every step to retrieve supplies is a step away from a patient, a step in the wrong direction.

What is the longest shift a nurse can work? ›

In most cases, hospitals will not allow nurses to work more than 16 hours in a row. Clinic nurses (private practice) typically will not work more than 8 hours per day. Scheduled shifts are typically either 8, 10, or 12 hours in duration and may not follow the typical pattern of the day, evening, or night shifts.

What is the healthiest work schedule? ›

In general, 8-hour shifts are preferable to 12-hour shifts. Circadian physiology suggests that morning shifts should begin no earlier than 8:00 am for the physiological best fit to circadian rhythmicity.

How stressful is working 12-hour shifts? ›

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.

Is it better to work 3 12-hour shifts? ›

Shortened Work Week: In most hospitals, working three 12-hour shifts means four days off each week. The extended break is advantageous if you have a longer commute or require child care. You get less time on the road and more time with your family than those working the traditional 9 to 5.

What are the disadvantages of a 12 hour shift? ›

Negatives of 12-Hour Shift Schedules and How to Best Manage Them
  • Inconsistent Sleep Schedule.
  • Hard to Switch or Call Off.
  • Fatigue - On the Job & Commuting Home.
  • Limited Social Life on Days Working.
Feb 7, 2022

Why are 12 hour shifts so tiring? ›

Long Working Hours

In fact, considering that most of us get between 6-8 hours of sleep, a 12-hour shift would only leave you with around 4 hours of “free” time or to “wind down”. This in and of itself is physically and mentally draining and can cause you to feel run down and like you have little to no energy.

Why do companies want 12 hour shifts? ›

With a 12-hour shift schedule, there are only two shift turnovers per day, resulting in fewer opportunities for miscommunications and production disruptions that may occur during shift changeover periods. This can translate into increased productivity, along with lower error and accident rates.

What percent of Americans work 12 hour shifts? ›

Companies across America are fairly evenly divided between 8- and 12-hour shifts: In a Circadian survey of 400 shiftwork operations, 37 percent were using 12-hour shifts while 34 percent were using 8-hour shifts.

Is working 12 hours a day too long? ›

It's important to recognize that there can be negative health concerns that come with working a 12 hour shift. Consistently working long shifts can contribute to sleep disorders, obesity and chronic fatigue. It can be difficult to get enough sleep or stick to a regular sleep schedule.

Should nurses shifts be shortened? ›

Shorter nursing shifts often result in less fatigue and burnout for nurses. Nurses working eight-hour shifts work fewer hours, so they can go home for a break. They typically get at least a few hours of rest every day. These rest periods can allow nurses to feel more energized for their next shift.

How do you mentally get through a long shift? ›

How to cope with working long hours
  1. Tip #1 — Make a precise schedule 📝
  2. Tip #2 — Try time blocking.
  3. Tip #3 — “Automate” what you can 🔁
  4. Tip #4 — Track time ⏲️
  5. Tip #5 — Avoid distractions 🎧
  6. Tip #6 – Listen to your internal clock.
  7. Tip #7 — Trick your mind with productive rewards.
  8. Tip #8 — Take power naps 😴
Jun 9, 2022

Why does night nurse work so well? ›

There are three active ingredients that together make Night Nurse work efficiently at helping people dealing with colds and the flu to sleep better: paracetamol, dextromethorphan, and promethazine.

Is night shift better for new grad nurses? ›

Night shift is great for new nurses, because there is more downtime to learn. Day shift can be overwhelming for a new grad, so I suggest trying the nightlife until you get the hang of things. It allows for more time to look at your patient's chart and learn why you are doing what you are doing.

Why you should get a night nurse? ›

1) Less Stress Getting Settled

They can help you unpack. They can also help you feed, change, and care for the new addition to your family right away. Some night nurses can even provide advice and guidance on breastfeeding. With their help, getting settled at home might not be a breeze, but it will certainly be easier!

What is the 4 on 4 off 12 hour shift pattern? ›

Regular 4-on 4 off:

This is a classic continuous working pattern based on 12 hour shifts. Participants work for four consecutive 12-hour days, followed by four consecutive days off, then four consecutive 12-hour nights, followed by four consecutive days off, then four more days and so on.

What is a 4 on 3 off 12 hour shift pattern? ›

A 12 hour rotating shift might work like this. For three days you work 12 hours during the day, have two days off; work 12 hours on nights for 4 days, have 3 days off; work 12 hours on days for 3 days etc. Of course there are many variations on this theme.

What is a 2 2 3 work schedule 12 hour shift? ›

A 2-2-3 work schedule requires employees to work 12-hour shifts in a 28-day rotating shift cycle. Four teams work 2 days in a row, get 2 days off, then work another 3 days. Typically, the teams will work opposite schedules throughout the 28-day cycle.

What is better 12 hour shifts or 8 hour shifts for nurses? ›

More productivity: Nurses are commonly more productive during an 8-hour shift. While longer shifts can cause nurses to become fatigued quickly, a shorter shift allows more to get done from the hours put in each day.

What is a swing shift in nursing? ›

Some nurses work the day shift and others work the night shift. Then there's an entirely different group who works both day and night: the swing-shift nurses. Working swing shifts—day shifts and night shifts in the same week or even in two-week period—can be tough on your body.

Why second shift is the best? ›

Working second shift allows you to work outside of traditional hours, which may allow you to commute to work in less traffic. This may reduce how long your commute requires each day, providing you with more time for yourself.

How many calories do nurses burn in a 12 hour shift? ›

Nurses expend on average 1521 kcals/6364 kJ over a 12-hour shift. 72% of nurses expend enough energy to maintain a healthy body weight if dietary intake does not exceed recommended levels (for females).

How many patients does a nurse see in a shift? ›

Depending on where you work, you could be responsible for one patient at a time (in a surgical setting, for example) or up to six patients (in a psychiatric ward). In some settings, such as large, busy hospitals, a nurse could be asked to care for eight or more patients at a time.

What are the effects of long shifts on nurses? ›

Decrease Health Complications: Long hours and high stress levels in nursing can lead to serious health conditions among nurses, including gastric ulcers, musculoskeletal disorders, diabetes mellitus, metabolic syndrome, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

What is the average career length of a nurse? ›

Why is it that the average RN career length is only nine years? Incredible Health.

What type of nurse has the most flexible hours? ›

Best Flexible Nursing Jobs
  1. School Nurse. This is more of a video on tips for school nurses. ...
  2. Doctor's Office Nurse. ...
  3. Freelance Nurse Writer. ...
  4. Home Health Nurse. ...
  5. Hospice Nurse. ...
  6. Travel Nurse.

What is the healthiest shift pattern? ›

For the most people, rotating forward through day, afternoon and night shift is better than backwards (night, afternoon then day). The frequency of rotation is also controversial. Some people advocate prolonged rotation, such as two to three weeks. Others advocate short rotations of two to three days.

What is unhealthy work hours? ›

So how much work is too much? A recent study by the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization shows that working more than 55 hours a week can have negative effects on your health.

How many hours a week is unhealthy to work? ›

A study from the World Health Organization (WHO) found that working an average of 55 hours or more each week increases your risk of stroke by 35 percent and your risk of dying from heart disease by 17 percent, compared to averaging a 35-40 hour workweek.

What is the impact of 12 hour shifts? ›

Increased risk of burnout

Most notably, longer shifts might mess up sleep cycles for employees which can negatively affect their health. This is especially true for employees who work night shifts – they typically get two to four hours less sleep than usual.

Why is burnout so high in nursing? ›

There are many causes of nurse burnout. Some causes are inherent to the job: providing compassionate care, working long hours, changing shift schedules, and being on your feet for hours at a time can all place serious demands on nurses.

Does nursing have a high burnout rate? ›

At least 25% of nurses have been experiencing burnout symptoms. This includes things like stress, anxiety, depression, and other forms of emotional exhaustion. Additionally, many of these nurses also face depersonalization and a diminished sense of professional achievement. 85% of nurses experience career fatigue.

What is nursing burnout due to long hours? ›

Long Work Hours

Working longer hours increases stress, which leads to poor performance and a decreased ability to provide top-notch patient care. Over time, this leads to exhaustion, burnout, and an increased risk of making a critical error; becoming a cyclical effect.

Which type of nurse is most prone to burnout? ›

Critical care nurses tend to suffer the highest rates of burnout. Critical care specialties include the emergency department (ED) and intensive care unit (ICU). Emergency department nurses tend to experience the highest rates of burnout.

What is the best way to avoid nursing burnout? ›

6 tips for avoiding nurse burnout
  1. Identify the source of the stress. Try to pinpoint the circumstances that are causing you to feel overwhelmed. ...
  2. Find a work-life balance. ...
  3. Join a support network. ...
  4. Practice self-care. ...
  5. Find a creative outlet. ...
  6. Consider your options.

How do you beat nurse burnout? ›

  1. How to Deal With Nurse Burnout: Coping Strategies and Tips. ...
  2. Take Inventory of Your Stressors. ...
  3. Engage in Healthy Activities. ...
  4. Practice Mindfulness and Breathing Techniques. ...
  5. Set Boundaries. ...
  6. Consider Changing Careers. ...
  7. Learn Compartmentalization. ...
  8. Seek Support.

How much sleep do you need to work a 12 hour shift? ›

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.

What is the most stressful type of nursing? ›

The most stressful nursing jobs include ICU nurse, ER nurse, and NICU nurse. In these roles, nurses work in an intense environment with high stakes. They manage emergency situations and care for critically ill patients. Other stressful nursing jobs include OR nursing, oncology nursing, and psychiatric nursing.

What does nurse burnout look like? ›

A nurse experiencing burnout might have mental fatigue and feel emotionally drained. They may feel more negative or cynical towards their work and dread the next shift. They feel that they are starting to lose the passion and drive for the career that they once loved.

What are the five stages of burnout? ›

Let's break down each stage, so that you can identify the signs of burnout within yourself and halt the downward spiral before it gets out of control.
  • Stage 1: Excessive ambition.
  • Stage 2: Working harder.
  • Stage 3: Neglecting your needs.
  • Stage 4: Displacing problems.
  • Stage 5: Revision of values.
Feb 21, 2023

What are the potential signs of burnout for nurses? ›

RN burnout symptoms.
  • Always feeling tired or fatigued.
  • Dreading going to work.
  • Emotional and physical exhaustion.
  • Feeling apathetic about helping others.
  • Constant dread or panic about work.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Loss of sleep.
  • Increased anxiety and depression.
Dec 23, 2019

What percentage of nurses leave the profession? ›

Per the data, 4.2% (or an estimated 33,811) of licensed practical nurses/licensed vocational nurses left the workforce in the past two years—an issue compounded by “considerable and somewhat unprecedented disruptions” to prelicensure nursing education programs during the past few years.


1. Inside look at how nurse burnout impacts overall healthcare system
(CBS Mornings)
2. Large Percentage Of Nurses Struggling With Burnout
(CBS New York)
3. Nurse Burnout | How to avoid it AND get through it
(Momma Nurse)
4. My WORST Shift as a NURSE!
(Adam Price)
5. Burnout and Mental Illness: The Silent Epidemic of Healthcare Workers | What Can We Do?
(Nurse Liz)
6. The Solution to Nurse Burnout in 2023 #nursing #burnout
(The Enlightened RN)


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