When the clock resets, that’s when that other set clocks in: The nocturnal underclass of twilight-shift zombies who pull midnights to mornings, often graze out of a gas station snack rack, shed friends like muscle mass, and suffer weeks without savouring a vegetable.
It’s with morbid accuracy that society nicknames that the graveyard shift. Brave souls who bear it brook all manner of health risks, which Brown University chronobiologist Katie M. Sharkey enumerates: “Increased breast cancer, heart disease, fertility problems, gastrointestinal distress, and definitely more substance abuse, in groups that you wouldn’t even think, like nurses drinking coffee after 5 a.m., then using alcohol to try and sleep.”
Adjust your inner timepiece, though, and your graveyard shift need not carry a graveyard sentence: Start by adopting a vampiresque revulsion towards the sun.
“Light is the most potent time-giver to our biological clock,” Sharkey explains. “Protect yourself from exposure, particularly when travelling home in the morning.”
Then, with lead drapes blackening yours windows, go right to bed: no Facebook, no Cheerios, no Good Morning America.
“The closer you go to bed to your natural sleep time, the more likely you’ll get good sleep,” she advises.
Ear plugs, eyeshades, an understanding family, a phone on vibrate, and a doorknob dangler — Night Shift Worker: Don’t Disturb ‘Till 4 — can assist, Sharkey recommends.
So can smoother transitions. Come weekends, all too many nocturns backslide to a sunshine schedule when they’d slumber sounder half-measuring a 3 a.m. bedtime.
“Naps can be of significant benefit,” chronobiologist Timothy Monk suggests. “An afternoon nap prior to the first night or a run of night duty is clearly advisable.”
Take your health seriously. The safety of others may rest on your slumber patterns. The very people who come out at night, Sharkey notes, are the cops, nurses, and 911 tellers who rely on split-second decisions, instincts, she warns, that are denatured by the night shift.