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Monday, March 30, 2009

Night Shifting

A lot of people think working an all-night shift is difficult, maybe impossible. I guess for some people, it is. I knew one person whose body couldn't handle the shift; going from day shift to night shift threw her body chemistry off in a dangerously bad way.

But for me, it's easy. As long as I get good rest the day before, I'm all set to put in a full night. This usually means that the day before I begin the night shift rotation I go to bed at a reasonable hour - say, no later than 11:00 PM or midnight. I then sleep in, late, and then force myself to sleep some more - optimally, all the way to 2:00 in the afternoon, giving me an unreasonable fourteen or fifteen hours of sleep - less, if you count the hours of wakefulness that inevitably intrude. I leave the house early - my target time is 4:45, a good fifteen minutes earlier than I would leave for day shift, to allow for extra afternoon traffic and construction. Barring such events, I make it to work by 5:20, and spend twenty minutes reading a magazine in the parking lot. I get out of the car at 5:40 and clock in at 5:45. (On a day when I was diverted by traffic and construction, this schedule was thrown off by a half hour; I pulled into the parking lot, hurried into the building, and clocked in at 5:55.)

I don't drink coffee at work. The bright lights, frantic pace of work, and adrenaline rush tend to keep me going until lunch, which sometimes doesn't come until after 3:00. When someone asked me why I don't drink coffee during the night, I asked him if he wanted to see me any more hyper and high-strung than I currently was. This may come as a surprise to some, who know me as a mellow, laid-back sort. That is just my "relaxed" mode. At work I am rarely relaxed.

Work plows along through the night until our relief arrives at or before 6:00. We punch out and trudge to our cars in the pre-dawn darkness - a situation that I trust will be remedied in the coming weeks. On the way home I drink a can of diet cola, eat some grapes left over from my lunch, and sometimes drink half a liter of water and eat an apple.

When I come home at 7:00 I do one of two things: go online for an hour or so and catch up on blogs and maybe try to squeeze in my daily post, or go directly to bed. If I go directly to bed I usually am not asleep until nearly 8:00, and usually do not sleep all the way through to the 2:00 alarm. Days that I go on the Internet first I tend to get more solid sleep.

At 2:00 I wake and eat a meal - usually something dinner-ish, with diet cola and possibly coffee. The lunch that I pack for work is also dinner-ish, with added fruit and cookies. In a sense, I eat two dinners and no lunch or breakfast. I then go online, write my post if I haven't already (or, sometimes, write the next day's post and set it for delayed publication), and catch up on the thousands of updates that people inevitably post when I'm working. Then I pack my lunch (dinner leftovers, grapes, a bottle of water, an apple and a spare for the ride home, and a high-carbohydrate snack, usually cookies), take a shower, dress (I lay out my clothes for the entire four-day rotation on the day before it starts), saddle up the Tercel, and head out again.

On the last day of the rotation I stop on the way home for gas, have some coffee and something breakfastesque when I get home, and go on the Internet until I fade into incoherence.

And then the trouble starts.

You see, working night shift is easy for me. Transitioning to a "normal" schedule on my days off has proved impossible so far. On my first day I usually crash for a few hours in the middle of the day, but then I'm up and wired again as afternoon fades to evening - and get increasingly wired as the night progresses. Eventually I go to bed - not before 3:30 in the morning these last two days - and sleep until 10:00 or so. I then spend the first half of the day feeling hung over: my eyelids swell, my eyes become fiercely sensitive to light, and I tend to get clumsy and lean on things a lot like a slouchy beat poet. In the afternoon I become extremely tired for brief periods, but as the evening wears on I become, once again, increasingly wired.

I'm trying to work through some solutions. Wine seems to have helped. Tonight I stupidly had a craving for cookies, and double-stupidly decided to have some leftover coffee with them. I added some whiskey to the coffee - not something I would normally do, but I'm hoping it will help me sleep.

I need to find some workarounds soon. Next Sunday I will come home from my last day of work and go almost immediately to an 8:00 Palm Sunday mass. I will then return home, shower, change, and head down to visit some friends to celebrate their daughter's birthday one day after her party. I will probably relax a bit face-down in the dirt outside their house three steps from my car until they get back from church, and will then be as witty and charming and photosensitive as a hungover slob as I do my own gift presentation and an inspection of her other gifts. I will then likely crash on a couch for a few hours, and rally in the late afternoon or early evening - at which point I will have to head home, since I (stupidly) made arrangements to have my car inspected the next day.

This is all assuming I'm working next rotation, which is not at all certain.

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