Be Nosferatu: How To Work Nights, Sleep Enough and Love It

The circadian clock is built into our genes. Having a job working nights is a violation of everything natural. Many otherwise tough people have tried to do it and failed. They found it too difficult mentally, physically, and socially. When the night shift people are coming, the day shift people are going. Vice versa.

It’s like hanging from monkey bars by your feet for days. Being up all night all the time is all wrong. All of it.

Walk your street and I’ll walk mine.
And should we meet? Would you spare me some time?
Cause you should see my world
Meet my kind, before you judge our minds.
Sleep your sleep, I’m awake and alive
I keep late hours, your nine to five
So I would like you know
I need the quiet hours to create in this world of mine
I’d like you to know at four in the morning
Things are coming mine, all I’ve seen, all I’ve done
And those I hope to find
I’d like to remind you at four in the morning
My world is very still
The air is fresh under diamond skies makes me glad to be alive.

In writing “Blue Collar”, above, and “Stayed Awake All Night” Bachman Turner Overdrive shows they get it. The air is fresh under star-filled skies in the middle of the night. In a good part of the country for much of the year the middle of the night, outside, is the only time it’s worthwhile to be outside. It’s too hot otherwise.

If you have what it takes; if you have a system and the discipline to use a system to ensure you’re at peak mental and physical power during the shift, working nights can be incredibly rewarding both for your career, for your paycheck, and simply because, in many cases, the work is a lot easier as compared to the work on the day shift. If you get enough sleep and realize all of the benefits working nights can provide, you’re going to love working nights. It’s that simple.

Just be aware there’s a toll the night shift exacts on your body. The key is to mitigate the toll. Studies have shown working the night shift increases your risk of cancer, suffering a heart attack, depression, on-the-job injury, obesity, diabetes, and suffering an on-the-job injury. The night shift affects the excretion of the melatonin hormone by your pineal gland which makes it harder to fall asleep at night at the regular time. It also interferes with the production of Vitamin D which is essential for the metabolism of calcium and other nutrients. You will suffer these effects especially if you do it for a long time. A good system will ensure you mitigate the effects of working nights.

Some people you know won’t get the idea you have to sleep like anyone else. The rest of the world isn’t going to conform to your biological needs. There are places to go, things to do and people to see even when you’re working. You’re going to be working, making critical decisions on less sleep than other people. Some people are going to be able to make the adjustment to working nights, some won’t. It’s definitely not for everyone either because of their biological demands or because of their environment. If the people you live with for one reason or another can’t or won’t respect your need to sleep during the day there’s not much you can do about it. If you’re responsible for answering the phone, answering the door, making dinner, or have to sleep in a room with people going in and out of it all the time, you’re not going to be successful at working nights on a long term basis.

It’s best to purposefully adopt a series of practices to allow yourself to sleep during the daytime.

  • Wear earplugs and an eye shade. Block out any natural light forcing its way into your sleep chamber. Darken your room with heavy curtains. Try to sleep in a quiet area but use the earplugs anyway because noise has a way of creeping around anyway.
  • Try not to schedule anything for the middle of the day when you’re sleeping. If you have to have an appointment on a day you’re working, try to schedule the appointment for later in the afternoon so the effect resembles getting up early.
  • Work all of your shifts in a streak. One place I worked scheduled me to be on one shift, off the next, on the shift after, off the next, then on. Such a schedule is extremely difficult to recover from because you aren’t fully adapting to either rhythm. If your job insists on having you keep a schedule like that, get another job. Your health is more important than any job.
  • Get some sunshine when you wake up in the afternoon. This is the single most valuable piece of advice in this blog post. You could do something as simple as go outside and do some chore in the sun. The sun helps us produce Vitamin D and helps us have a good mood. It counts as getting sunshine if you’re in the shade. The important thing seems to be seeing the sun. Exercise is great at this time of the day for night shift workers. I like to do the Tiger Moves.
  • Eat healthfully. This is always important but especially when you work nights. When people don’t eat healthfully and work nights, they tend to put on weight.
  • Always respect your need to sleep. Make sure others respect your need to sleep too.
  • Realize your vulnerability. You’ve got people who will knock on your door repeatedly when they know you’re inside. You’ve got domestic partners who will be cruel to you, not let you get your sleep. You’re vulnerable to the sunshine streaming into your window. You’ve got telemarketers and bill collectors who’ll keep calling all throughout the day. Adding to all of that, you’ve got businesses only open during the day. It can be tough.
  • Dealing with a racing mind can be extra hard during the daytime. There are many activities that can help but the key is to select an activity or train of thought that’s going to give you a sense of peace and not lead to simulation.
  • It’s not natural to have to sleep during the day, all day. You just have to make a deal with yourself that you’re not going to get out of bed during the time you’re supposed to be asleep. Calculate a minimum number of hours you need to sleep and stick to it.
  • After a long period of working nights, you might find melatonin helps you sleep at night on your days off.
  • Don’t immediately resort to taking sleeping aids. If you’re going to go to sleep at 8 a.m., stop drinking coffee after 3 a.m.
  • Don’t vigorously or even moderately exercise after getting home in the morning. Exercise is stimulating, then the shower you take after the exercise often provides more stimulation. Instead, try a gentle form of exercise if you must exercise, something like tai chi or yoga.
  • If you have a job involving a lot of sitting, ignore the above advice. Some vigorous exercise might help you get to sleep.
  • Don’t eat a big meal and then try to lay down. Eat lightly, just enough to keep you from being too hungry to stay asleep.
  • When you’re coming off of your string of shifts, wake up at your regular time in the afternoon. Go to sleep at the hour you want to consistently go to bed at on your nights off. Try taking less than 1 mg of melatonin about 30 minutes before bedtime.
  • It helps to be okay with waking up early the next morning. You might need a nap in the afternoon. If that’s the case, don’t sleep too long.