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Too Many Hours: The Dangers of Long Shifts on Your Health and How to Avoid Them

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Have you ever wondered if working long shifts could be making you sick? One study found that working shifts 12 hours or more in length, might put you at an increased risk of illness. Learn about the findings and a few things you can do to keep yourself healthy.

Too Many Hours: The Dangers of Long Shifts on Your Health and How to Avoid Them

You wake up to get ready for your 5th, 12-hour shift this week. As you open your eyes, you realize that your head is pounding, your stomach churns, and you feel feverish. Ugh - you're sick, but why? Could your schedule be making you ill?

You might have heard research about shift work disorder - in which working night shift has been proven to affect your health negatively. However, a recent study concluded that working long hours on any shift can increase your risk of becoming ill. Let's discuss this data and consider a few ways you can stay healthy during your long work days.

The Results

A July 2018 article in the Journal of Nursing Management provided the results of a study that examined 601,282 shifts and 8,090 episodes of absences related to illness. The researchers found that when more than 75% of shifts worked in the past 7 days were at least 12 hours in length, the odds of a short-term or long-term illness were increased. This led them to conclude that working longer shifts could result in loss of hours related to illness.

The researchers advocated that nurse managers should consider alternate schedules to limit the number of 12-hour or longer shifts worked. They also suggested that taking breaks, limiting heavy workloads, and ensuring adequate staff coverage might help to offset the effects of 12 hours shifts. The findings suggest that an occasional 12-hour shift might not have negative consequences, but if the majority of your shifts are 12 hours or longer - you may be a high risk of sickness that can leave you calling off for the day.

The Reality

Limiting 12 hours shifts may sound like a good idea for your health, but often it's just not feasible on many nursing units. And, you might not even like the idea of not working 12-hour shifts, because if you stick to only your required shifts each week - you do enjoy several days off for family, school, or other commitments.

So, where does this leave you? It likely leaves you working your 12-hour shift schedule, even though it might not be the healthiest of practice. However, it doesn't leave you helpless when it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Here are 5 things you can do to increase your health when you work long shifts.

Eat Healthily

The hospital cafeteria might not give you many options and ordering-in is typically a bad idea. So, if you're going to live a healthy life on and off the clock, you need to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet both places.

Eating a healthy diet at work can be challenging. Many nurses find it difficult to find 30 consecutive minutes to sit down away from patient care to eat a meal. So, packing is a great alternative. Pack healthy foods that are easy-to-eat, such as raw veggies and hummus. Be sure to include plenty of lean proteins, like chicken or turkey. You can also substitute meat for other proteins, like peanut butter eggs, or soy products. And, be sure to drink plenty of fluids to keep you feeling your best.

When you're not at work, be sure to continue your healthy diet choices. A multi-vitamin might also be a great addition to your healthy diet.

Stay Up-to-Date on Immunizations

When you provide hands-on care, you will be exposed to many communicable diseases. It's important to get your vaccines to remain healthy. A few of the most essential vaccines include flu, Hepatitis B, and Chickenpox vaccine. If you're not sure what vaccines you need - take a look at this list of recommended vaccines for healthcare workers, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Wash Your Hands

Germs are everywhere - work, home, and out in public - so many sure to protect yourself as much as possible. Wash your hands --a lot-- even at home. Here is a quick reminder on best practices for hand-washing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Keep alcohol-based hand sanitizer close by when soap and water might not be accessible.

Catch Some Shut-Eye

Sleep is a vital requirement for health. Long shifts can make you tired, but, you can become overtired, making restful sleep even more difficult to achieve. The stress you face during your shifts may keep your mind active at night, not allowing you to rest fully.

Lack of sleep has been proven to affect your immune system, making you more susceptible to viruses, like the common cold. Not only can a lack of sleep increase your risk of becoming ill, but it can also slow down your recovery from illness.

A few tips to get a good night's sleep include:

  • Keep the room cool and dark
  • If you work nights, splurge on darkening blinds to keep out even the smallest slivers of light
  • Limit tech, including the TV, in your bedroom
  • Limit caffeine late in the day

Stay Home When You're Sick

I know - easier said than done, right? But, you need to remember that going to work sick isn't helping anyone. And, while your boss might get a little testy when you call off, try to remember that he or she is likely frustrated with the situation, not you in particular.

So - what do you think? Do your long shifts increase your risk of illness? Do you wish you could 8-hour shifts or do you love your days off so much that you will struggle with the occasional illness? Tell us what you think by placing your thoughts in the comments below.


Melissa is a Quality Assurance Nurse, professor, writer, and business owner. She has been a nurse for over 20 years and enjoys combining her nursing knowledge and passion for the written word. You can see more of her work at www.melissamills.net.

34 Likes, 5 Followers, 83 Articles, 18,202 Visitors, and 222 Posts.

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