Monday, May 16, 2011

N is for Night Shift

The title just states "Night Shift" but what I really want to address are the off duty lives of night shift workers. I have worked some form of night shift for most of my 25 year career in EMS so you would think my family and friends would be used to it by now. Everyone has some form of sleep routine. People who work days typically sleep at night. It should be understood that one who works at night would sleep in the daytime. It should...but it isn't.

I usually get home around 7 am and am asleep by 8. I learned years ago to turn my phone off because, no matter how many times I have reminded folks of my schedule, hardly a day goes by that someone doesn't call by 11 am. When I return messages late in the afternoon and repeat for the umpteenth time..."I work nights, I was asleep when you called this morning", the inevitable response is, "Well I thought you'd be up by 11!" "Uhhh...that's three hours of sleep. If I call you at 2 am are you going to be awake?" That statement usually gets some sort of haughty response about it not being the same thing. (why?)

When I forget to turn off the ringer, I love the snide remarks when I am awakened and groggily answer the phone. "It must be nice to sleep til noon", or my favorite, "What a life!" It's not just the morning after a shift that causes conflict. My kids are grown, so I have been able to alter my sleep schedule on my off days to keep my circadian rhythms consistent. My husband works from home and sets his own schedule, so it has been easy for us to adapt as a couple. On my days off, we typically eat dinner around 10 pm, go to bed around 2 am and sleep until 10 or 11. Not the exact hours I keep on duty, but a lot easier on the old bod than trying to flip back and forth from nights to days. The response I usually get when I make my routine late afternoon return calls is, "Why were you asleep, you didn't work last night?"

It's not just friends and family. The bulk of the business world doesn't get it either. My husband gets Fed Ex packages just about every day for his business. I have hung signs on the door, called the corporate office, and pleaded directly with the drivers...Please Don't Ring The Doorbell!"...ding dong! My sympathetic spouse finally placed a light switch in my closet wired to the blasted thing so I can turn it off when I am trying to sleep.

It is not just EMS workers who face this adversity. Anyone who has ever worked nights knows what I am talking about. It is hard enough to get the right window coverings to make your bedroom dark, adjust the tempurature so it resembles a cool night, and find just the right fan to create the white noise needed to block the daytime sounds from outside. Should we really have to face discrimination because we aren't like "normal" people? Should others be allowed to hurl offensive epithets with impunity?
Vampire, Rumplestiltskin and the most hurtful of all...Sleeping Beauty! I am not a fairy tale! I am a woman!

I have often thought we needed to launch a campaign to raise awareness of night shift worker abuse. A nationwide call in may be in order. If all night shift workers were to call someone at three am on the same night, it would ripple across the nation like an earthquake and shed light on our plight. Second and Third shift workers unite! Power to the (night) people!


  1. My mother worked as a nurse when I was growing up and often worked night shifts which took some adjustment for the whole family. I do remember her getting home from 3-11 shifts and going wild cleaning the house in the wee hours of the morning as noisy as could be, even vacuuming. I wasn't too crazy about that.

    Glad I've never had to do night shifts. I'm a morning person and don't think I could retrain myself to work nights. I commend those who do as the world is definitely not accommodating, as you well know.

  2. Thanks Cat...nice to know that there are people out there who understand!

  3. My dad used to sometimes work overnights. I'm sure it was easier for him to sleep during the school year that it was in the summer, when our house was full of both family and neighborhood kids. Fortunately, kids back then played outside a lot!

    I’m more than half way done blogging my way back from Z to A. :O) Middle of Everything

  4. My father worked the night shift for years and so did my bff. They both attempted working all night and running errands all day, which meant they never slept. They both burnt out after a few years. True friends will understand and be respectful. I totally feel your pain!

  5. I have a close friend who works the night shift (and has for 10+years) it's not an easy road, that's for sure.

  6. Oh how I hate third shift. I wanted to give my male man a good kick in the balls for always waking my boyfriend and I up when we worked third shift. He was too damn lazy to get out of his vehicle and place a package on the porch and would beep his horn until waking us up. If unsuccessful we were woken up by a package hitting our front door.

  7. I grew up with Dad working rotating shifts. His being on night shift meant that Mom and I would get to leave the house and go shopping or to the movies or visiting family. They bought black shades for the days when he was sleeping and had an air conditioner in the bedroom to block out all noise outside the house. Dad slept through everything except the fire whistle. LOL He was a volunteer firefighter for 50 years.