The effects of shift work on a person’s mind, body and spirit could be called Legion. Fatigue that never seems to end, sleeping habits out of whack, mood swings and strained relationships are just a few of the symptoms that affect a person.
One man said working the graveyard shift “in short sucked, in long terms it sucked bad”. He also said his health was always bad, and he was more susceptible to catching colds or the flu as he felt his body system was always on low.
A former room mate of mine preferred working the 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. shift but always felt tired. He said he found compensation in that he could go out on his nights off to a restaurant in the pre dawn hours and pretty well have the place to himself.
A nurse I knew found working the night shift a good thing for those who don’t, or won’t, be a part of mainstream society that nine to fivers inhabit. She regarded them as the “work a days”. To her, day shift was bankers hours as she saw many of life’s confusions begin during that time. Plus, she was turned off by the hubbub and senseless carrying on of things during the daytime that had little effect in the big picture of life. She found it no coincidence that nine to fivers is called banker hours, as the almighty dollar is at work at this time.
She went on to say that maintaining a balanced diet is very important, especially a high protein one until a person is use to doing shift work and their biological clock evens out, because the body has fluctuating blood sugar levels. She mentions diabetics have to be very in tune with their diabetes and strive vigoursly to control it. She did say she can go on very little sleep, calling it a zone she lived and functioned in. She mentioned waves of sleepiness would come and go. When the low wave hit she laid down, but a lot depended on whether she had to work the next night or not.
Sleep is an important factor when working shifts; it’s easy to underestimate the need for it in our culture of busyness. For those working nights, sleeping at some point during the day is a necessity, but some find it virtually impossible to sleep when the sun is out. Dark curtains covering bedrooms windows helps matters. Interruptions can be a big problem in getting a good days sleep. Sometimes people return to work for the next night shift with not enough sleep due to phone calls, family concerns, people slamming doors, loud traffic, noisy neighbours or construction noises.
In 1991 I worked 12 hour night shifts – 9:00 p.m. to 9:00 a.m. – for several months. I would get tired; look up at the clock only to see it was 3:00 a.m. and realizing I was only halfway through my shift. During the summer months the sun would shine for 18 to 20 hours and I would find it tough sledding to sleep during the day. It helped matters when I took a suggestion from a co-worker that I put up a heavy sleeping bag of mine over the window. I slept better, as the bag provided much needed darkness.
One woman worked long hours while learning the ropes of running a hotel in Saskatchewan. Quite often she would start work at 7:00 a.m. and work a 12 to 16 hour day. She said, “It gets so tiring for me as 6 hours is a stretch of sleep for me. Sometimes it’s the maximum I get per night, particularly when I work six or seven days in a row or when my daughter is sick.”
One fellow I knew worked two weeks of 5:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. followed by two weeks of 5:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. at a potash mine near Saskatoon. Working the night shift was hard on his system, and he would be up most days by noon. If he couldn’t get back to sleep it would be an 18 hour stretch of being awake before being able to get back to bed.
Everyone has their own way of dealing with the night shift. Some hit the sack once they got home in the morning, but to me it was like getting off work at 4:00 p.m. then going to bed at 5:00 p.m.. I was one of those who waited to about noon before going to bed before the next night shift.
Preparation is a big part of working nights; one has to plan ahead on what their needs are. Working nights puts a person on a different plane of existence. Day people have more interaction with others, but do they have the quality that night workers do? Night shift works can lead “normal” lives when not working, but the lure of working nights is like the child who wants to stay up all night because it defies the restraints of day time living.