Working Around the Clock: What Happens to Your Body as the Hours Go By


If you work as a nurse, you’re probably all too familiar with long shifts. Nurses typically work in shifts that can last anywhere between 8 and 12 hours. While many nurses tend to stick to a 40-hour week schedule, long nights, emergencies, and shift swaps can easily push that number to 55 hours a week or more. But what effect does all that extra time on the floor have on your physical and mental health?

Find out how working long shifts and too much overtime can take a toll on your body.

The Dangers of Sitting

Not all nurses run around tending to their patients. Some healthcare workers sit behind desks most of the day organizing records, updating files, and answering emails. The bad news is that too much sitting can be just as bad for your health as smoking.

According to a 2017 study from the Annals of Internal Medicine, sitting for long periods of time can lead to a range of negative health outcomes. Researchers used hip-mounted devices to track inactivity levels among nearly 8,000 working adults over the age of 45. The results showed that those who sit for more than 13 hours a day were twice as likely to die prematurely as those who were active for 11.5 hours. If you’re thinking about binging Netflix for another 90 minutes or staying late to answer a few extra emails, all that sitting might catch up with you.

Long periods of sitting may also increase your risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, deep-vein thrombosis, and metabolic syndrome. When we sit, our largest muscles are completely relaxed, which means they take up less glucose from the blood. Sitting can also increase your sense of pain by stiffening your joints and muscles. It’s best to move around every 30 minutes to an hour, so you can stretch your muscles. Try doing a few jumping-jacks in your office, walking down to the end of the hall and back, or just jogging in place to get the blood flowing.

Going Over 40

Working overtime may help your bank account but not your overall health. A recent study published in European Heart Journal of over 85,000 workers across the U.K., Denmark, Sweden, and Finland shows that working overtime comes with its fair share of risks. Those who worked over 55 hours a week were about 40% more likely to develop atrial fibrillation in the following 10 years than those who worked 35-40 hours per week.

Studies also suggest working overtime can increase your risk of workplace injuries due to fatigue. It also increases your chances of being diagnosed with chronic illnesses later on in life, such as heart and lung disease, cancer, diabetes and arthritis. Working too much can also increase stress and worsen symptoms of depression and anxiety.

When you get home after a long day at the office, you’re probably too tired to cook a delicious meal. Working overtime often leads to unhealthy eating habits, including frozen and over-processed foods, fast food, and other junk foods that are bad for your health. You may also have trouble sleeping if you work overtime continuously.

If you pick up an extra shift here and there, you probably shouldn’t be too worried. However, consistently working more than 40 hours a week can be a danger to your health, so try to cut back your time at work as much as possible if you regularly work overtime.

Is Overtime Worth It?

While earning some extra money may be great in the short term, taking all those extra shifts may cost you in more ways than one down the line. If you feel like you have to work more than 40 hours a week in order to do your job, it might be time to look for work at another facility. Talk to your manager and find ways to reduce your workload. If you continue to work more than 40 hours a week, find time to relax, plan some time off, and see your doctor regularly.

Considering the nature of the healthcare industry, everyone should be aware of the health effects of working too much. As nurses, we are routinely asked to stay late and deal with all kinds of emergencies when we least expect it. But that doesn’t mean you should neglect your health. Try to eat healthy at the end of a long day, get plenty of rest, and stay hydrated.

You can also pass this information along to your patients. If some of your patients are dealing with depression, obesity, anxiety, muscle stiffness, chronic pain, or they’re having trouble sleeping, talk to them about the dangers of working too much and encourage them to take a day off.

Treat your body with care and find ways to cut back at work, so you can live a long, healthy life.


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