10 Helpful Tips to Survive 3 Brutal 12 Hour Shifts in a Row

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I have often heard non-shift working folk mention that “working 3, 12 hour shifts is easy! You just work for three days then have sooooo much time off!” You and I both know this is only partly correct because that three-day schedule can be brutal. Let’s explore how to make it easier.

Managing a 12-hour shift schedule is firstly about prioritizing your own health, particularly around sleep, healthy eating and exercise. Being organized in the lead up regarding meal planning and ensuring you’re prepared with adequate equipment for your job, helps makes this roster easier to manage.

This post will explore 10 ways to best manage working 3, 12 hour shifts in a row and still feel human. We will dive into my personal recommendations to ensure you avoid getting sick, feel connected with your friends and family and have time for the things which make you happy. Let’s get started.

If you’re interested in the best tools we use to stay healthy, check out our tools page by clicking hereOpens in a new tab..

1. Look After #1

I’m starting here because this is by far the most important aspect of this whole 12-hour shift game.

Surviving 3, 12-hour shifts in a row is tricky. The first two are okay but it gets rough towards the end if you don’t look after yourself.

This is, of course, made even harder if you work more than three in a row and you should take extra care when reading the suggestion below. 

Here are a few ways to make sure you’re looking after yourself:

  • Surround yourself with good people.
    The ones who are positive, optimistic and don’t crowd your tired brain negativity are the people to befriend. Negativity can be contagious, particularly when you’re tired.
  • Take the time to do you. 
    Enjoy a bath when you get home and try to make it your own personal day spa – candles, wine, the whole deal. Listen to meditation music to explore the power it can have in instantly relaxing you after a busy shift.
  • Stay hydrated.
    I often forget to drink water when work gets busy. Keep your drink bottle or tumbler in view and try adding some lemon into your water to keep things interesting. Plus, enjoy the added health benefits. Caffeine may be a shift workers best friend but it can also make you wee and keep you awake. So, enjoy it, but lay off it if you’re planning to sleep in the next 6-7 hours.
  • Take it easy.
    Avoid having heavy conversations where you need to make big decisions. If you have time, park the conversation for the three days and come back to it later. You’ll have clearer thinking and will actually have time to focus on what’s being said without getting too emotional or distracted.
  • After a shift, write down all the good work you’ve done.
    This last point may not be beneficial for everyone but it’s worth a suggestion. Writing down what you achieved during a shift can help lighten your mood and give you a sense of achievement. 

If you’re working 12 hour nights and you feel like this schedule is killing you this video will help.

2. Get Yourself Organized

It may come as no surprise that working 3,12-hour shifts in a row doesn’t leave much time for well, anything.

You’re not only away from your family and friends for a solid three days, which can feel socially isolating, but you can’t get any of your jobs done quickly.

Why? The shops are closed, the call centers you need to contact to fix your issues close at 6 pm and you don’t finish till 7 pm and your friends don’t work your crazy schedule.

Instead of getting caught up or sad about this stuff, make time to do the important things before you start.

Here is where I would begin: 

  • Run your errands.
    Take in your dry cleaning, visit the bank (if you need the teller and it can’t be sorted out online), pay the bills (again if you have an issue you need to discuss) etc. Don’t put this stuff off because there is unlikely a 24-hour option for these services.
  • Straighten up around the house.
    Get out the vacuum and fill the mop bucket. Spend some time doing the housework to give yourself (and your family) a clean space to come home to. These mundane jobs usually get put on the back burner while you’re working, so lighten the load for later and do a bit now. It’s funny what a clean house can do to your headspace.
  • Minimalize your stuff.
    I recently watched an amazing documentary about minimalizing your life, your clothes, furniture and nick-nacks… When working 12-hour shifts, don’t clutter your brain with stuff you don’t use or need. It may be time for a clean out and man it can be SO refreshing!
  • Hitting the grocery store and getting organized socially
    We dive into in much more detail later in this post.

Related post: Essential Guide to Working a Rotating Shift Schedule

VIDEO – Will Your Next 12-Hour Shift Ruin You? We Need to Talk

3. Prepare to Forget Things

If your mind is anything like mine while working 3, 12-hour shifts in a row, it’s basically a sieve!

My memory is good while I’m at work because I’m stimulated, but as soon as I leave, it’s lucky my head is screwed on if you know what I mean?

Make the items which you cannot forget, either in a super obvious location or written down somewhere you’ll see it. Stuck to the back of your front door is a good example!

Must-have items for a 12-Hour Shift:

I spend some time the night before I need to leave for work getting ready. Save yourself (and your family) the chaotic morning run around trying to find your keys and ID!

  • ID badge
  • Hand lotion:
    During a 12 hours shift and even an 8-hour shift, my hands become a cracked mess. I’m blaming it on the alcohol-based, hospital hand rub… Do your hands a favor and bring in your creams, applying them a few times during a shift.
  • Phone charger
  • Water bottle/BEAST TumblerOpens in a new tab. (our #1 recommendation for tumblers)
  • Extra clothes/uniform:
    Do you like to be seen outside your workplace flashing your work logo? Maybe you’re a doctor and you’ve got the word “DOCTOR” across your back while riding the busy, hot train home and somebody starts showing you the mysterious rash on their arm…

    If this bothers you, throw in a spare T’shirt or sweater.

    The second reason is being prepared if something unexpected was to be sprayed or splashed over on your uniform. 12 hours is a long time to smell like somebody else’s vomit or worse.

4. Exercise – Differently

I could tell you to just “go workout…” “find the time…” “just get it done”… but that’s not very helpful.

Why? You simply can’t be stuffed. Plus, you don’t want to be around more people at gym, right?

Buttttttt, we know we need to exercise for not only our physical health but also for our mental health.

Here are eight strategies to how I fit in exercise when working 3, 12-hour shifts in a row:

Work Out at Home

Jump onto the treadmill/stationary bike/vibrating exercise machineOpens in a new tab. (which actually does work!) and locate them in front of your T.V.

Walk/jog/ride on the machine of your choice, or simply stand there if using the vibrating machine and use the TV as a distraction. 30 to 60 minutes here and you’re all done.

If you don’t have any equipment at home, there are quality workouts you can do in limited space with little equipment.

I often find these by typing into YouTube, “exercise workout for women” or “home gym exercise workout” and I’m all set. Here is the best home gym equipment we use and other items extremely popular on Amazon.

And here is also a post about why home gyms are better than the gym itself.

Related post: How to Stay Fit While Working Nights: 12 Sneaky Tips

For a cheap bicep curl workout, use a basket when buying your groceries and not the shopping cart.

Jump Rope

If you don’t have this epic home-gym kind of set up, try jumping rope.

This is a seriously hard workout, but it’s maximum bang for your buck. 10-15 minutes is all you need and you’re done for the night. Girls don’t forget a good sports bra!

Check out our favorite rope and sport bra via or shift work tool page here.


Complete a yoga routine or simply stretch.

It’s likely you have been on your feet all day and simply need to rest your muscles, right?

There is plenty of time in the week for a run or an intense workout but for most, trying to do it in between 3, 12 hours shifts will NOT work.

I use “Yoga With Adrienne” on YouTube when I am feeling like this and I recommend you check her out too.

Walking Your Dog or Even the Neighbor’s Dog!

This is an amazing exercise strategy because dogs never say no to a walk.

But just be careful if doing this in the dark after your shift. If you need a head torch to prevent you from tripping over the dog leash, this oneOpens in a new tab. has some pretty great reviews.

If you own a dog you’ll be interested in this post we wrote titled, Owning a Dog as a Shift Worker: Clever Tips to Make It Work for some tips and recommended products.

Or, if you are just thinking about it, this post may help convince you how great dogs are for shift workers!

Related post: Sleep or Workout? What Should I Do After Night Shift?

[VIDEO] – Best time to exercise when working night shift

5. Bring Food You’re Excited to Eat

What you eat when working 3, 12-hour shifts in a row can make or break your shift.

Bringing something sugary to work will excite you for a short, fleeting moment, but will leave you feeling tired, hungry and wanting more.

I’m a sweet tooth, so I’m not saying to rule these things out entirely, but just bring a small handful of whatever you were going to bring. Not the entire block/bag.

Instead, bring foods that are filling, sustainable and will keep you going.

Such foods include:

  • Hummus with pre-cut veggies like carrot and celery
  • Vegetable or red kidney bean fritters (takes some prep time, but worth every second)
  • Oatmeal with yogurt, heated berries and honey
  • Peanut butter on fat-free crackers
  • Overnight Oats

For a full list – check out our posts below here for more food inspiration:

For the bakers reading this post, this point, in particular, is relevant to you. Though eating delicious bread is a highlight of the job, mix it up from time to time, choosing something from the list above. This will not only keep you healthier but also regular!

6. Find Routine at Work

When are your breaks? Where can you store your food? Do you have fridge facilities available?

I can tell you, I generally eat two breakfasts, I know, what a pig. One before I leave home and the other at work anywhere between 8 am – 11.30 am.

I’ve missed out on my first break one too many times, so I’ve basically forced or as I like to say ‘taught’ myself to eat before I leave home, even if I’m not ready.

This works for me when my shift is from 7 am – 7.30 pm, but might not work if your shift time is different.

12 hours is a long time and you need to bring foods which not only sustain you, but excite your taste buds when you actually get a break.

Here are some tips for meal planning, food storage and eating while on 12-hour shifts:

Plan Your Meals

This includes the ones you’re eating at home with your family and the ones you’re taking to work (which is generally two meals with snacks and a ton of water.

Don’t rely on the vending machine or a sneaky take-out drive through stop because nobody is watching.

I see you… jokes. I’m not a creep but your waistline is watching!

Use these precious ‘days off’ we discussed earlier to organize (almost) every meal.

I don’t plan every single meal, particularly the meals at home, but I do prepare the food I take to work.

Skipping this step is stressful because you’re often left scrambling for food from the cafeteria which may or may not be open while draining your wallet at the same time.

If you want to loosen the planning do it while you’re at home, not at work, but just make sure you have healthy snacks readily available when you do arrive home.

Use the Slow Cooker and Take the Pressure off Cooking Something Fresh

Double the mixture and cook in bulk. There can be never enough frozen meals in your freezer for the ‘rainy day.’

If you’re in the meal prep mood,  consider making a big serving of one of the items below:

  • Shredded chicken
  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice
  • Black bean pasta
  • Chilli
  • Spaghetti sauce

Divide these up into individual glass containers and add veggies, rice and a sauce of your choice to keep things interesting. Or, simply keep it in the fridge and use it when you need to.

There are some glass containers we recommended without hesitation which you can access via our shift work tools page here. No more smelly, stained plastic containers here!

Develop a Food Plan With Your Family

Work as a team with your family, spouse or housemate to figure out some meals together, if you like to eat after your shift.

Get a little nerdy and use a shared Google Sheets or even an app to get organized and know what everyone is doing.

Be Careful Bringing in Liquid-Based Foods Like Soup

I once had a plastic container of pumpkin soup (which I now DON’T use) spill right down my back while riding my bike to work. Yes, through the double bag I had it in!

Soups are great but consider bringing them in frozen or keep for when you get home.

Think Again About Bringing in Frozen Meals.

How are you going to defrost it?

Is your break long enough to wait for your food to be defrosted for 10 minutes?

Will your workmates hate you if you’re holding up the only microwave in the tea room?

If you love frozen meals like me, you’ll enjoy this post titled 6 Healthy, Freezable Shift Work Meal Ideas for Beginners.

7. Use Your Breaks Wisely When Working 12-Hour Shifts

When it’s break time, be smart and don’t skip them. Ever.

An important tip here – make sure you are allocated the corrected amount of breaks and time for each. If you’re unsure what you’re entitled to, it’s worth having a chat to HR or your management team.

I know how busy work can be, but you’re not good for anybody, especially yourself if you miss it. It doesn’t make you ‘stronger’ or a ‘better worker’ if you opt out.

Secondly, here are some of my secret tricks to try on your next break :

Get Out of the Tiny Tearoom for Your Break

It’s smelly with too many bodies and not enough airflow…Instead, go sit outside (is there is a staff area/garden outside you don’t know about?) and get some vitamin D on your skin.

If it’s raining, find a lunchroom which has some big windows, open them up and enjoy some, rain-smelling fresh air.

This method alone saves my sanity when working 12 hours shifts.

While you’re outside, get in the sun for a few minutes.

Shift workers, in general, are deprived of vitamin D and sunshine.

We need this special vitamin to absorb calcium and promote bone growth. If it’s already dark by 7 pm when you’re leaving work, you have to get outside at lunchtime or even before you start work (but it might be dark then too) to get your fix.

Vitamin D also helps you sleep and allows your body to say, ”Oh is it day time!?” which realigns your body clock.


Look after yourself mentally, remember to give your phone to somebody else while on break.

Sure keep your pager, if your workplace still uses them, but make sure you hand the phone over and give your mind a rest.

8. Make Sleep a Priority

You can eat the most healthy diet and workout every day, but if you don’t sleep enough while working 12-hour shifts, nothing really matters.

Here are 5 ways to make sleep a priority:

Make Your Bedroom Feel Like a 5-Star Hotel

Could there be anything worse than working your butt off for 12 hours then coming home to crinkled sheets, a non-supportive pillow and dirty towels? Well yes, there could be worse things, but this stuff isn’t good.

Invest in sheetsOpens in a new tab. you love, a mattress which supports your sore bits and pillowOpens in a new tab. with a 10+ year warranty that helps align your spine. Here are the items we recommend for your bedroom.

Related post: My Top Tip for Taking Melatonin on Night Shift: Plus 10 More

Go to Bed Early and Avoid Shift Work Sleep Disorder

The Netflix show you’re addicted to and using to wind down can wait.

If you need to go to bed at 8 pm, do it and don’t feel embarrassed about it. Here are our favorite sleep aids and a few tricks to try if you’re having trouble sleeping because you’re not tired.

Related post:

Block Out the Blue Light

We go on and on about this because it’s super important.

If you’re new to this idea, check out our post about blue light and find out what it’s all about.

Or, take a look at the glasses we recommend with some common FAQ’s here via our shift work tools page. Here are the glasses I am referring to from Swanwick Sleep. Opens in a new tab.

On Your Days Off, Don’t Go Too Crazy

Sleep in, work out (if you didn’t quite get to it while you were working) and slowly get your jobs done.

You might like to book in any appointments for your days off rather than trying to schedule these while working.

Related post: Help! Should I Stick to a Night Shift Schedule on Days Off?

Write Down Your Random Thoughts

I’m sure you’ve woken up in the middle of the night with a random thought or something you need to do the following day, right? You’re so distracted it’s stopping you from falling asleep. Write it down.

Keep a pen and paper by your bed and scribble it down, even if you don’t turn the light on. Try it. It works.

9. Don’t Forget About Your Feet!

After you’ve gotten home I would suggest putting your feet high against a wall, closing your eyes and simply laying there for about 10 minutes. This allows the blood to drain from your legs to your heart and brain.

This stops the pain, reduces swelling and feels oh so good!

If you want to read more about reducing foot pain, you’ll love – How To Relieve Foot And Leg Pain From Standing All Day.

Secondly, invest in good shoes. I wear these back ASICS Women’s Gel-Kayano sneakers and love them to death. Comfortable, supportive and don’t show the dirt!

But, I know some workplaces don’t allow sneakers or tennis shoes.

So some other options like Birkenstocks clogsOpens in a new tab. or the popular Dansko nursing shoesOpens in a new tab. are a good choice to support your feet during a long shift.

Just make sure your feet don’t flop around loosely and the laces are tight.

Do you wear compression socks?

These brightly colored socks prevent varicose veins. Standing for long periods of time causes valves in the veins to become weakened, with blood being collected in the veins.

This causes the veins to enlarge, increase in pressure and stretch, causing often pretty painful varicose veins.

Whether I’m nursing or flying internationally from the USA to our motherland of Australia, these Physix Gear compression socksOpens in a new tab. are my favorite ones.

They don’t scream “I’m wearing compression socks!”, they stay up and don’t make me feel too hot. See them here on Amazon.

10. Don’t Forget Your Social Life Either!

Socially, don’t try and be everything to everyone. It’s okay if you take a few days to respond to a text or miss or call (unless it’s urgent). 

Knowing your social life will go down the loo for a few days, it’s important to go out and organize something exciting for after you’ve finished. Buying tickets for a public event, planning dinner with your family or a date with your partner.

When working 3, 12-hour shifts in a row, it’s likely you won’t see your friends because you just won’t have time.

I call my nursing friends on the way to work, who were also working an early shift as a way to stay connected and it worked great!

The Myduty app we explore in the Shift Planning: 10 Best Shift Work Calendar Apps to Keep You Organised is perfect for syncing your friend’s calendars with yours to make these special conversations possible.


Summary: 10 Helpful Tips to Survive 3 Brutal 12 Hour Shifts in a Row

Surviving 3, 12-hour shifts in a row is not for the faint-hearted.

Take special care of your legs, feet, tummy and mind while not getting concerned with making everyone else happy and ticking all the boxes.

Look after number one, surround yourself with positive people and enjoy your time off because it’s only 72 hours away!

Thanks for reading our blog post about surviving 3, 12-hour shifts in a row. How do you manage this hectic schedule? Let me know in the comments below.


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.

How to Effortlessly Survive 3, 12 Hour Shifts in a Row | Have you ever worked 3 12 hours shifts in a row? It can be tough going, but not impossible. We dive into shift work life and how to successfully work this busy shift work schedule | theothershift.com | #12hoursshifts #312hoursshiftsinarow #12hourshiftsnursing #12hourshifttips
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Emma @ The Other Shift

Hey there! I'm Emma Smith a passionate, Registered Nurse from Australia. Together with my husband Daniel, we run The Other Shift. Our sole aim is to help shift workers and those on unusual schedules find balance between work and life. I understand the challenges of fitting in exercise, maintaining relationships and getting enough quality sleep, but I'm excited to show you that it’s possible to do shift work and still thrive. Read more about us and our story here.

9 thoughts on “10 Helpful Tips to Survive 3 Brutal 12 Hour Shifts in a Row

  1. I love the ideas! Is there anything else you’d recommend for a new RN who is 58? I’ve been trying to build up my aerobic stamina every day. Have meals prepped and enough scrubs for the week. Also have pet sitter/house cleaner to give me a hand. I’m still super nervous about these 12 1/2 hour days.

    1. Hi Lorrie,
      It sounds like you are putting in good strategies in place to handle your new routine. Here is a few more.
      1. Making sure you have a social outlet I think is really important. Even knowing you have something booked in (with people you love and who make you laugh) can help. 2. Drink enough water – leave your drink in a place you can see it an set a challenge with yourself. When busy we forget to drink up.
      3. Aim to sleep 7-9 hours. If you struggle with this make some adjustments in your room to create your own “oasis” – this post may help
      4. Safety – Make sure you are parking/getting to work safely as it may be dark when you’re coming and going.
      5. Being a new RN is tough – this post may help.

      Best of luck Lorrie

    2. Great strategies! I am a new RN on an acute neuroscience/neurosurgery floor and needless to say it is utter craziness! Its To the point where my unit is known as the wild west at our hospital 🙂 I am thankful for the wide breadth of skills i get ( lumbar drains, IVIG, Trachs, nerve blocks, all the tubes and lines!!!!) and the experience dealing with Strokes, tumors, spinal cord injuries, TBIs, autoimmune conditions, seizures etc but it also really takes a toll… I also work rotating shifts and night shift sucks…. big time… I was recently on night shift for a month and then switched to day shift and I swear my body has not quite recovered. I struggle staying healthy during these periods bc I am so tired i don’t have the energy to put into anything– even at times eating… I try and exercise on my days off but my body feels like lead…anyway, i will definitely try and implement some of these strategies!!!!

  2. I work 3, 12 hour shifts and 2, 8 hour shifts in the week, these really helped me especially about the elevating your feet, ive been in constant pain (just started my job) and its almost unbearable I can barely move when I get home, I work as a kennel attendant at an animal hospital we can get over 100 dogs at a time!!! It gets hectic and we are always standing!!

    1. Hi Enedina!
      100 dogs! Hectic is an understatement! Have you tried wearing compression socks? They are brilliant to take away the swelling and aches. Here are our favorites. How old are your shoes? A physio once told me that you should replace your runners/sneakers every 12 months even if they look okay. It’s the soles of the shoes which could be worn. It might be worth turning over your shoes to see if it’s time for an upgrade. Yes! Elevating your feet against the wall gives amazing relief and will probably be very helpful after a long day. I also wanted to mention that this post titled, How to Relieve Foot and Leg Pain from Standing All Day may also be worth checking out for more tips. Good luck. Emma

  3. I work 3 16 hour shifts back to back as an LPN. I can guarantee that on Day 4, I sleep in and nap through out the day. I use one day to cook meals for the week. But I freeze them in individual dishes so I can eat something different. They thaw in my lunch bag and act as ice blocks. Cooking is one of my favorite ways to relax.

  4. I love this article great tips ! I’m excited for the coming week. I’m prepared and ready Togo.

    Thank you

    1. Thanks, Chris! We appreciate your comment. Go and show your 12-hour shift who’s boss! If you have any shift working friends who you think will benefit from this post, feel free to share it with them too 🙂 Cheers, Em and Dan

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