Thursday, March 27, 2014

Ah, The Night Shift


Night shift, second shift, swing shift-- it has many different names. Call it what you will, it generally means that someone is just starting his or her shift just before, or possibly even after, you have finished your work day and are readying to head home for the evening.

This has been my life for the past 9 months-- and I've learned that it's not always easy.

I've always been a night owl-- for as long as I can remember, I've loved staying up late, and sleeping in.  But, I've never had to do it while working 40 hours a week, and let me tell you: it's a different ball game.

In fact, there are several problems that plague Night Shifters more than their early-rising Day Shift counterparts.

These include, but are not limited to:

1) Sleep disorders. 

2) Weight gain.  The average night shift worker gains 2 pounds per week.  In fact, the obesity rate among night shift workers is much higher than it is among people who work regular shifts.  Many night shift workers gain approximately 20 to 30 pounds during their first months of working nights.  This, of course, comes with an increased risk of diabetes, among other health concerns.  

3) Digestion/Gastrointestinal issues.  People who work the night shift are up to 150% more likely to develop stress-related gastrointestinal issues.  They are less likely to eat a nutritious meal, since they don't have the opportunity to eat at home with their families, and pretty much all healthful take out options are non-existent.

4) Cancer.  Recent studies suggest that night shift workers may be at an increased risk for cancer.  The current thought is that it has something to do lower levels of melatonin, which may increase cancer risk.

No one really seems to think about it, but in actuality, Night Shift workers kind of struggle a lot.  Sure, we don't have to wake up early on Monday morning, but we also don't get to go out on Friday nights.  Yes, that can be annoying, to be cooped up in an office while everyone is enjoying the close of the work week.  But, truthfully, that is just cosmetic, it doesn't touch on the actual trials that plague people who work night or graveyard shifts (cancer definitely is worse).

Indeed, in my 9 month tenure on the night shift, I've found it much more difficult to make healthy decisions when it comes to food. Think about it: when you're at work, and you want to go out for food, you have a plethora of options, many of which would be decidedly more healthy than simple fast food.  Perhaps you want a sandwich at subway, or a salad at the local salad shop-- that's pretty easy to do.  You're much more able to make healthful choices.  But, the night shifters?  Not so much.  By the time it's time for our lunch, all of the 'healthy' options are closed, and our only choices are fast food.  I don't need to run down the ingredients/nutritional information for McDonald's salads here for you to know that they're really not all that healthy.

So, you're able to choose a healthy lunch, or pack a sandwich, and then go home and make a dinner which you'll get to eat fresh.

Not so for the night shifter.  I've been making healthier choices and have been preparing all of my meals, but let me tell you that when you cook something and don't serve it immediately, but instead pack it up in Tupperware and allow it to sit in the fridge before you even eat the first serving definitely loses something in translation. Every meal is like leftovers.  So, don't take those fresh meals at your dining room table with music or the television going in the background for granted, because not everyone gets them.

In addition to all of the actual things that can go wrong with your body when you work nights, there's another one that seems to irk me even more: the stigma.

For instance, one of the most problematic things for me, as a night shift worker, is how little I feel I'm understood by peers-- my sleeping habits are made fun of, laughed at, or even met with disdain. I can't tell you how many times since I've started night shift I've felt embarrassed to tell someone how late I slept.  But, the thing is: I shouldn't be.  I shouldn't be embarrassed because I am on a different schedule.

However, all too often, when someone finds out how late I've slept, the fact that they don't realize that I'm on a different schedule becomes painfully obvious.  

"Oh, well, I slept until 1pm."  It's almost inevitably met with "Wow, that must be nice," or some sort of look that seems to insinuate that I must be lazy to stay in bed so long.  No, I just went to bed at 6am. 

I know, it sounds nice, and you're jealous, but I also spent the entire night working/being awake.

For some people, I get that envy.  Maybe you have kids--maybe you don't get to sleep through the night, and you never get to sleep past 6am because your kids wake you up.  Those people expressing envy, or "that must be nice," I get.  I get that.  But, to the rest of you on a normal schedule that condescend when you hear that I slept past noon-- kindly shut it.  

I work the same number of hours a week that you do (40+), and I struggle with all of the aforementioned stuff that just doesn't plague those on the day shift, so stop acting like sleeping late makes me lazy, or lucky; I'm not, and it doesn't.  

About the only thing it makes me a night shift worker.  Also, really tired, usually.  Have you ever tried to sleep during the day?  It's pretty bright, the sun being up has a tendency to do that, I guess. Also, it's pretty loud with the birds chirping and what have you, not to mention all you day shifters traveling about to your jobs, lunches, etc., etc., etc.

I miss being day shift sometimes-- I long to go home and cook a hot meal and enjoy it while it's still hot.  Or to get a normal circadian rhythm going.  Oh, and I definitely don't want to get cancer.  But, I think that pretty much goes without saying.

But, this is my life for now--so I'll focus on the positives of night shift: things are quieter around the office, for one.  Fewer distractions, fewer people going in and out of my office.  And I don't have to deal with all that fabulous L.A. traffic the same way you day shifters do, so there is that.

It's not all bad-- but someday, I hope to see the sunrise when I'm getting out of bed while I'm starting my day, not into it while I'm ending it. 

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