What Do the Terms 1st, 2nd and 3rd Shift Actually Mean?​

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1st shift, early, AM, swing shift, 2nd, afternoon shift, PM, graveyard shift, 3rd shift, night shift, lobster shift… Are you serious? How is somebody new to the shift working world supposed to understand what this all means? Do they mean the same thing? What makes them different? Let’s clear up the confusion and make some sense of these daunting shift work scheduling terms.  

The 1st, 2nd and 3rd shifts are typical rotating shifts. The 1st shift (early, morning, am) traditionally runs from 7am – 3.30pm. The 2nd shift (late, afternoon, pm) starts just before the 1st shift finishes, 2pm and ceases at 10pm. Whereas the 3rd shift (graveyard, night shift) means working overnight from 9pm-7am.  

It seems that people got a little too creative when trying to describe the way a typical shift work schedule looks. This post clearly describes the different kinds of shift work, the advantages and disadvantages of each and pro tips to really own your shift work schedule. 

What Does the 1st Shift Mean?

This is the “first shift” of the day, generally starting when the sun rises to the mid-afternoon. Most 1st shifts are 8 hours long but can also be 10, 12, 14 or even 24 hours in duration. 

I have created three different tables for each of the three shifts to make it easier to understand. 

There is, unfortunately, no hard and fast rule or “law” where every shift working environment needs to have exactly the same starting and finishing hours. It’s job and industry dependent.

1st shift HoursPotential Jobs
5am – 9.30amSchool bus drvier
5am – 11amRadio host, morning TV staff, convenience store staff
7am – 3.30pmNursing, hospital security, cleaner, phlebotomist
8am – 2pmReception, administration, call center support
8am – 4pmRetail, lifeguard at the local pool
4am – 1pmProduction film companies, baker
6am – 3amHospitality (wait staff), security, prison guard, factory worker, laborer, doctor (however often finish around 5pm)
6am – 3pm + OvertimeTruck drivers. You cannot drive for 11 hours straight, however you may be expected to work up to 70 hours over an eight-day period. In most cases, you must not drive for approx. 14 hours before your next job after working a 14-hour shift.

Other common “street” names for the 1st shift

  • Morning Shift
  • Early Shift
  • AM
  • “a”
  • Day shift
  • Day job
  • Day time shift

1st Shift Advantages

  • It is the shift that aligns best to your body clock. It is the shift us humans are programmed to both work and sleep, leading to less health complications commonly linked to shift work.
  • There is generally more support and specialist help available during your workday if you need assistance. 
  • Never miss an important announcement, impromptu meeting or change occurring within your workplace as last minutes meetings tend to happen in this period.
  • The cafeteria is open for business!
  • There is less chance of feeling like a zombie on your days off. (Here’s a few hints on what you should do on your days off).

1st Shift Disadvantages

  • Busy commute
  • Fast-paced (this is a disadvantage if you’re not in the mood)
  • Often constant interruptions while trying to complete your work
  • A shift can often be short (depending on your industry) which can be awkward with having large sections of time off in the middle of the day 

Pro tips while working 1st shift:

  • Exercise after your shift regularly. Jumping rope is a great, effective workout if you are short on time.
  • Spend quality time with your family after the shift. Limit the use of your device and really enjoy this special time together. Don’t take it for granted.
  • Limit what you eat when the sun is down. Stick to eating and drinking once the sun has risen as this is favored by your digestive system and body clock.

[VIDEO] – Night Shift Eating Schedules Your Digestive System Will Love

Related Posts:

What Does the 2nd Shift Mean?

This is generally the “second” shift of the day and ranges from the mid-afternoon till around midnight. 

Please explore the table below for more details. 

HoursPotential Jobs
1pm – 9.30pmNursing, gas station staff, state trooper, convenience store staff
5pm – midnightHospitality, grocery store staff, prison guard
2.30pm – 6pmSchool bus driver, after-school care supervisor

Other common “street” names for the 2nd shift

  • Afternoon
  • PM
  • Late shift
  • Swing shift (see next section)
  • “p”
  • Dogwatch (4pm – 8pm)

2nd Shift Advantages

  • Sleep in, run errands in the morning and see a friend for breakfast
  • Great for night owls who like to go to bed late and get up late
  • Easy commute, particularly after your shift

2nd Shift Disadvantages

  • You’re out of sync with your family and friends. You are often climbing into bed while others are getting out. Or, you’re still at work while your family is having dinner together. 
  • Higher chance of sleep deprivation than 1st shift due to going to bed sometimes around 2-3am depending on your schedule and job and often being woken early in the morning by your family and traffic etc. 

Pro tips while working 2nd shift:

  • Use your mornings wisely. Have events booked in and dates scheduled to make you feel accomplished.
  • Resist eating fatty foods after midnight on your way home. Bring snacks in the car and make a peppermint tea (which is good for your belly) for your commute home, limiting temptation to stop for take-out.
  • Embrace note and letter writing and even personalized video calling. These small acts bring your family together, making you feel like a strong family unit, despite often limited time together.

[VIDEO] – Not sure what to eat late at night? This video will help.

Related Posts:

What Does the 3rd Shift Mean?

Finally, the 3rd shift is traditionally the last shift of the day. It ranges anywhere from dusk until dawn with the shifts varying in duration. Some are 8 hours while others can be 12 +. 

Please explore the table below to check out which industries work the 3rd shift. 

HoursPotential Jobs
9pm – 7amNursing, Hotel check-in staff, road construction, security, police, cleaner
11pm – 8amNursing, gas station staff, convenience stores
12pm – 6amHospitality, prison guard, college dorm staff
9pm – 9am + overtimeFirefighters often work long shifts followed by multiple days off eg. 24 hours on followed by 48 hours off. Doctors are also commonly working 12+ hour shifts depending on their workload and the condition of a patient or situation

Other common “street” names for the 3rd shift

  • Graveyard shift
  • Night shift
  • 3rd shift 
  • Overnight shift 
  • “Nights”
  • Midnight shift
  • “n”
  • Lobster shift
  • Anchor watch

3rd Shift Advantages

  • Financial incentive 
  • Easier commute (less cars on the road and fewer people taking public transport)
  • Work autonomously and often uninterrupted 
  • Great for night owls who like to go to bed late and hate getting up early
  • Public places are quieter on your days off (bank, grocery store etc) 
  • If you work a particular number of hours a week or block of time, you may find you work fewer days per week as night shifts are generally longer in duration then day shifts. 

3rd Shift Disadvantages

  • Limited support if you need to call for help
  • Lonely for the “people person” type personalities
  • Sleeping during the day can come with some challenges 
  • It can be difficult to “switch” back to the day time schedule on your days off or on the “weekend”
  • Health complications are often associated with the night shift due to increased chances of sleep deprivation and limited sunlight exposure. (source)

Pro tips while working 3rd shift:

  • Always bring high protein snacks to work and don’t become reliant on the vending machine
  • Exercise between nights and even consider working out immediately after a shift. This video will give you some inspiration on when to exercise.
  • Try using the BonoSleep device. We did an honest video review which you can watch here.

Related Posts:

Good to Know…

Some businesses like to mix things up, not specifically allocating you to a particular shift. For example, you may work 1st shift on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday but switch to the 3rd shift on Friday and Saturday.

If you have a new job on the cards, ask about your schedule before you start.
Anti-clockwise rotating shifts are the toughest…

If you are a rotating shift worker, try and request shifts in a “normal” order such as 1st…2nd…3rd shift rather than 3rd…1st…2nd.

What About the Swing Shift?

This is also a very popular shift but it’s a little more unusual in regards to timing than the other three.

So, to make it easier, we created an entire post about the swing shift and how to manage this schedule. It’s titled, “What’s a Swing Shift? 5 Essentials to Managing This Schedule

Surgeon trying green cap wearing scrubs
Click on the image to explore what the swing shift is all about

If you have the power to control your roster…

It’s best to try and find regularity when you can. Our body clocks love routine so it can predict what and when it should be performing a task. If you can organize to work a few weeks of 1st shift, then switch to 2nd shift for another few weeks, it will work wonders for helping your body clock adjust.

Summary: What Do the Terms 1st, 2nd and 3rd Shift Actually Mean?​

In most shift working industries like medicine, aviation, hospitality and emergency services the doors never close. Hence why shift work needs to exist in the first place!

We hope you know have some clarity on what the 1st, 2nd and 3rd shift is all about and how you can succeed in your next shift working job.

Next up, How Do You Work Both Day and Night Shifts? (An Honest Guide)


Disclosure: This page may contain affiliate links, meaning we receive a commission if you decide to make a purchase through our links, but this is at no additional cost to you. Please read our disclosure and privacy statement for more info.

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