I’ve worked nearly every shift in the world in the myriad jobs I have had the pleasure of toiling at. Swing? Early AM? Graveyard? Splits? Late Evening + Early AM? 3 hours? 4 hours? 12? 8? I feel like I’ve done them all. I found though, that I really do like the full 12 hour graveyard Why you ask? First, less bullshit. No management, PT, OT, social work or docs. This of course has it’s disadvantages too, but you soon learn to deal. Second, the mood is different. Many of my night shift colleagues and I figure we have 12 hours to get everything done and the pace kind of reflects that. Third, it starts with a bang, then usually calms by morning. Though some nights you start with a bang and it never stops. Did I mention lack of management in the house?
Thing is with nights is that it is completely opposite from the rest of the world and our natural circadian rhythm. Nature did not mean for us to be up all night when we should be sleeping. Guess that’s why night shift work is considered a carcinogen. After 2 weeks of flip-flopping back and forth from nights to days made me realize that I may have what works for me to help me “survive” the night shift. I’ve seen severl post around the blogosphere talking about this, so I figured to add my voice to the fray.
Wanderer’s Tips to Night Shift Survival, volume 1.
1 Pick a millieu. Say what? It’s simple: decide if you are going to stay on nights or are going to flip back and forth. I know that I function better when I’m more consistent. I plan my schedule to cluster my days and work a 3 on, 2 off, 3 on, 6 off rotating schedule. During those 2 days I stay a night owl and don’t flip back to days until the 6 day stretch. But I don’t have a long stretch like that, you say. Bribe your scheduler. Seriously, having a block of time to be “normal” will make you feel better and more apt to stay fresh when you’re back on nights.
2. Don’t rely on caffeine. I know that’s heresy to say to night shifters, but too much caffeine only makes you shaky after awhile. And you’re still tired. I usually have some sort of caffeine at 2am or so but I’m not mainlining it all night long.
3. Stay hydrated. I know that leads to the need to pee which we never seem to have, but it will make you feel better. Plus you have to counter the diuretic effect of all that caffeine.
4. Eat small. No big meals. It will only make you slow and tired as you digest.
5. Get some sun if you can. I know during the winter it can be tough, but I swear getting some sun in my face makes me feel better.
6. Exercise. A little bit of something to raise the heart beat before bed can help you sleep better. I ride a bike every day I can and on those days where I don’t I miss it. Plus it helps me drown out the night prior.
7. Black out curtains and a face mask. Best money I have spent on things to help me sleep.
8. Pharmaceuticl help. I have an issue sleeping on my non-work days so I have turned to the occasional help of Ambien. I maximize sleep when I can. Things like Benadryl/Tyelonl PM/Unisom/Melatonin can leave you with a bit of a hangover effect, but they work. Caveat emptor.
9. Realize that you’re going to miss out on things and make peace with that. Sleep is needed and you have to guard it jealously. A favorite story of mine is a friend who worked nights and their mother kept calling at 1pm, when they were asleep. She would say, “I thought you would be awake.” So my friend decided to turn it around and call their family at 2am…they should be up right? It only took one time for their mom to get the point. Your family, friend, telemarketers etc. all need to know that you sleep in the day,just like they sleep in the night. It’s hard if you have kids though…good luck. So turn off the phone and crash out.
10. Understand that you will get tired of nights at one point and decide to go to the “Light Side.” Truly you are a sell-out, but the reality is that those who stay on nights are just jealous…
Hope this helps. I swear by all of this and has kept me “sane” for nearly 3 years. Granted that “sane” is a relative term…