Have you ever worked "shift work"? As in probably the 7-3 thing, or perhaps "swings" (i.e., 3-11 p.m.)? Or, gods forbid, the dreaded night shift of 11 - 7? Then you know why I titled this page as I did! You know what it means to be foggy, to wonder if you're "coming or going", to think that your life is very weird.
I have worked shifts since 1978. So, although I may not be a qualified researcher into this phenomenon known as insomnia or sleep deprivation, I am a quantified veteran of both!
After graduating from junior college in 1978, I did not go into the field of my degree. Instead, I decided to stay closer to home/family & took a job in a factory (a printing plant) in the town I was living in. The pay was actually much better than where I might have gone to pursue my learned career, and the hours didn't seem too bad. Of course, I was only 19 years old then! It was no big deal, then, to work from 2:55 p.m. 'til 11:05 p.m. for up to 17 days at a time without a day off. Nor to party hearty after my shift was done - sometimes until 4 or 5 a.m.! Little did I know that was just the beginning of my inomniac life.
Nursing school was the next big event in my life. It's not an easy life, being a nursing student. [I want to say here that I truly admire my classmates who endured that particular abuse while also caring for their families & working in their soon-to-be left behind jobs.] At any rate, I spent many nights poring over gigantic tomes full of knowledge on my chosen path. Also, many nights writing up "care plans" (I am not going to go into what that is now) which were inevitably not right in some fashion... in preparation for a full day of "learning" on a ward in a hospital somewhere in Clarksville, TN. Of course, I was only 20 when I began this journey... so, you can imagine that I didn't entirely give up a social life! Yes, I partied on (it was college, c'mon!) as any red-blooded young American woman is wont to do in a town full of 'interesting' army men... Thus, the predisposition for sleepless nights was fostered.
My time spent in the military as an officer in the Army Nurse Corps [9/84 - 9/88] truly contributed to my sleep problems. There was absolutely no respect given to a young, single officer as far as scheduling. I never had a "schedule". I had to check the time sheets every single day to see when I had been posted to work. Very often I worked 3 different shifts in a week. And, of course, as I was a member of "Uncle Sam's Club", I could be called to duty whenever someone who wasn't military was sick or absent for any reason. There was no method to the madness. Often, during the winter months, I would waken & see a time on my alarm clock of 4:00, 5:00, etc, and honestly not know whether or not it was an a.m. or p.m. hour. As you can probably imagine, four years of this garbage really wrought havoc on my mind & body. [For anyone who has been in the military, I just want to let you know that MedCen nurses NEVER experience a "training holiday" or "payday activities"... and we do our jobs every single day we are at work - we don't 'go to the field', we are IN IT every time we're at work!]
Actually, ever since I can remember, I haven't slept "well". I am not sure why this is, but I know that I have always been a natural "night owl" (see the lark/night owl test at Circadian.com to see what YOU are). I had always preferred to keep late hours, being more fully alert & functional in the early/late evening or even in the wee hours of the morning. I never was a "morning person". My poor parents had a real challenge with this child! They always told me, "someday you will have to get up early and go to work." To which I always replied, "I won't, either; I will work at night!" And so the prophecy was fulfilled...
Why, you are probably wondering, am I rattling on about my own experiences? Well, hopefully you will recognize something herein - if you are one of the many who are up late at night whilst others slumber peacefully before waking at some horrid hour (say, 6 a.m.) to be alert & whistling towards their day. Maybe you are one of thousands who doesn't understand how anyone can be so "bright eyed & bushy tailed" at the crack of dawn - and who finds that they have a sometimes lonely existence when the world is dark & hushed, and yet the mind rolls on full of activity, ideas, and ready to work. That is ME! [Poetry on insomnia & nightshift]
IF you have never worked shifts, especially nights or "graveyard" shift, then you may be hard-pressed to understand what it is I ramble on about. You may think it's perfectly fine for an organization to expect everyone to have to show up at a standardized time for those annual classes everyone has to take. But for those of us who work at night, and toil away while you are dead asleep, it's not FINE! In fact, it seems like torture to have to arrive at 7 or 8 a.m. for some type of training. We are accustomed to being asleep at that hour, and that's exactly what our brains & bodies fight for when we are expected to remain awake at that hour. We are constantly asked to turn our entire lives upside down to accomodate your hours for "training" or some such other thing, because you day folks will NEVER accomodate us. Imagine if you who work in the daytime were asked to show up at work for a class, etc., at perhaps 1 or 2 a.m. Would you think your boss was nuts? How dare you be asked to come in when you are supposed to be resting?! AHA! Well, hello, that's what is done to night-shift workers 100% of the time, because administrative personnel will not provide training at hours which are suitable for US. So, when you see us nodding off during whatever thing it is you have demanded we show up for at some ungodly a.m. hour, don't snicker. Just think of how you would feel were you up at 2 a.m. with US for something... And be happy that the world, at least for now, is always willing to adjust to you.
That being said, here are some links for your edification... and for those of you who are already familiar with / currently working shift-work, please visit them to learn about ways to help yourself be more alert, better-adjusted at work & in your life outside of work, and to find a wonderful arena of support from others who are just like YOU!
Blessings to each of you who have read this diatribe, and thank you so much for your time.
Katherine E. Cline, professional registered nurse & shift worker