Final Thoughts on Thriving While Working Overnights

Fortunately, I only live about 5 minutes from work. I used to live in the country about 45 minutes from my job. The drive really complicated getting enough sleep. I sort of enjoyed the drive home, listening to music and watching the scenery, but I didn’t like a rush to work in the evening, because it felt too risky, trying to get to work in the dark with only 45 minutes or an hour, and so I took to leaving at around 6 or 7pm and then sleeping either in the car or stopping to see my husband and sleeping in the recliner in his room. Less than ideal, although he liked my visits. The move to town has been wonderful, really.

black eyes

Anyway, these past few posts describe my way of coping with staying awake and getting enough sleep during the work week. I work 3 long overnights and then hours at various times of day of my choosing during the rest of the week. Here is my advice for dealing with a varied schedule like mine.

First, I think ahead about how tired I am going to be before I volunteer for too many extra hours. I am very careful about volunteering for more overnight hours. I think ahead about what my duties will be, if I will be on my feet a lot or if it will be laid back. I think about whether I will be stressed by lots of people activity or if it will be quiet during the shift.

I also make sure I have at least one entire day off every week. That means if I get off, say, at 8am on Tuesday and I am scheduled to go in at 10pm on Thursday, I will not work on Wednesday. Even for an hour. I need that time to unplug from work, connect with family, play around on the computer or with other hobbies, etc. I shouldn’t have to even mention preserving time for yourself and your family, but I have met a LOT of coworkers who regularly work 7 days a week and burn the candle of both ends. I feel like if my bills are so great that I have to work that many hours, then I need to explore some frugal living tips! But I’m not judging. Just wondering how they do it and if they really would if they felt free to say no more often.

Bottom line: I don’t let GUILT make me say yes to working more hours than I can comfortably tolerate. I am a bona fide introvert and really need my down time. I get a certain amount of alone time at work, true, but it is not free alone time. It is a rare instance in which I feel like the needs of the company and the people we serve are so great that I need to sacrifice that time for the week, but I do give it up, maybe once in three months. Otherwise, I protect it. Also, I try to have at least one week a month in which I don’t work any extra and can have that whole stretch of 4 nights and their accompanying days free ahead of me.

A little spot of poetry here….An acrostic for the word “OPTIONS.”

Open schedule
Play before work (sometimes)
Time stretched out in long free blocks
Indifferent to the
Outcome…
Necessary is OK, but
Spontaneous? That’s better!

During my time off, I almost always take a nap during the daytime, and sometimes two. I also often get up during the night, perhaps at 2 or 3am and putter around a while. I might do laundry or housework at this time. I may stay up till sunrise and then go back to bed for a while. I think these naps and “anti-naps” as I call them keep my nocturnal circadian rhythm somewhat intact when I am not working.

Here’s another thing I do that may help someone. Sometimes it’s almost impossible to get more than 5 hours of sleep during the day, depending on a number of factors. When that happens, I try to keep a running total of how much sleep I get during a 7 day week. If you average 7-8 hours of sleep per day, you would get 49-56 hours in a week. I actually try to keep track of my weekly hours of sleep. I am off track right now, not writing them down, but I like keeping track.

A word about personality…I am the kind of person who thrives on variety. I chafe against routine. I feel like I never do anything the same way twice. I also thrive on lots of alone time and free time. I am almost never bored. If I do get bored, it will be a boring task that causes it and not an inability to find something to do, because there is always a lot going on in my inner world. If you are into Myers-Briggs types, I think I am an INFP. Graveyard shift offers some real benefits that day shift work doesn’t, especially for someone like me. Best of all, I think, is that I get a nice shift differential!

You know, these few posts have been a long, rambling piece of writing, and I don’t know if anyone would find anything in it helpful, but I think I am actually getting along pretty well living nocturnally and I know there are other people trying to find the ways to do that which work for them.

Here’s a recap:

Find the caffeine source that agrees with you, but try to get by on the bare minimum.
Stop the caffeine about 3 hours before your shift ends if you can.
Plan on needing something (pill, herb, etc.) to help you sleep.        Experiment with melatonin, herb teas, aromatherapy, darkened room, bathing, fans for noise, etc. Don’t give up until you’ve tried lots of things.
Prioritize sleep. Take naps.
Protect and treasure your time off.
Don’t get sidetracked during the day doing things and miss your needed sleep during the work week.
Don’t fret if you find your sleep broken into several sessions. It might work well that way.
Learn progressive relaxation/meditation in order to relax and sleep.

Don’t forget, there are some advantages to working graveyard…

Pay differential means you can work a few less hours for the same amount of pay, and that ultimately means more free time. Long shifts mean more hours in a short week, which means a longer “week-end” to do what you want.
Often lower stress, more laid back work.
Days off mean you can make it to appointments, events, etc., (but be careful not to sacrifice too much sleep living real life!)
Might get to work alone and plan how you’ll get your work done in a way that suits you instead of fitting it to someone else’s schedule. (Aka “autonomy.”)

A while back, I heard someone say, “I don’t do down time well.” I’m glad there is a place in the world for all types! Some of the above “advantages” would seem like liabilities to some people.

Anyway, God bless and/or good luck as you get to know yourself and find ways to adjust to an irregular schedule and working nights!

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