I knew a vampire once.
He had dark hair and pale skin and his clothes were a midnight blue. He usually woke up just as the last rays of the sun were winking out on the horizon. Give or take a few minutes.
My friend wasn’t especially adherent to the strict regimen of vampires – bloodsucking, for one, was not on his list of to-do’s. But then, strictly speaking, he wasn’t a traditional vampire. He was a cop on the graveyard shift.
What separated my friend from countless people working the night shift was this unique decision: He changed his lifestyle to accommodate his work, not vice versa. He slept during the day and stayed awake all night and religiously maintained that schedule even on his days off. Ergo, a vampire.
Unfortunately, there is little else that a typical graveyard shift worker can do. The real world operates during daylight hours, and it provides little accommodation for police officers who sleep during the day. Despite that, plenty of cops choose to work night shift with its combination of mostly empty streets and excitement-infused 911 calls.
Years ago, I was a 24-year-old rookie reveling in the constant stream of priority calls and high speed pursuits. The steady adrenalin drip kept me awake, but when I got home around 8 a.m. – my nerves jangling and my head spinning – falling asleep with the sun in my eyes and the smell of breakfast in my nose was never easy.
That’s when I learned a few tricks. Aluminum foil over windows will keep out the sunlight. A fan will lower the room temperature. Ear plugs will block out the noise. Over time I found I could knock out a shaky seven hours of sleep, enough to get me back into the patrol car by the next evening.
Then came my day off and a quick regression back into the real world. Scheduled for a court hearing at 9AM, a doctor’s appointment at 11, oh, and the kids need to be picked up after school. By the time I was ready to restart the work week, I had already reverted to sleeping at night. The graveyard shift usually cost me the equivalent of a night’s worth of sleep over the week.
The lack of a disciplined sleep schedule isn’t the only factor actively sabotaging the body clock of night shift workers. In police departments, training classes and mandatory meetings are usually scheduled right about the time the graveyard shift is fluffing their pillows. When the appointed time arrives you can always pick out the cops assigned to graveyard – they are the ones shutting their bloodshot eyes every time they yawn.
Here’s a news flash for agencies and businesses who staff a night shift: The human body is ill equipped to deal with externally imposed fluctuations in a sleep schedule.
There have been many sleep studies conducted to determine the effects of working rotating shifts. The data consistently suggests that night shift workers are far more likely to short-change their sleep, adjust their sleep patterns on their days off, or interrupt their sleep for errands. This behavior puts night shift workers at considerable health risk, as a Trib story (4/22) relates: “three or more night shifts a month, interspersed with day or evening hours, raises the risk of diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other health problems.”
In fact, the data has changed so little over the years that it makes me wonder why further studies are conducted.
My old friend the vampire must have known this all along. He was very much at home on the graveyard shift when he made the decision to live a nocturnal life. For him, failing health or an assignment on day shift were false choices.
For everyone else who find themselves working on the back side of midnight, consider the wisdom of the vampire as you stumble through the bleary nights and bloodshot days surviving on caffeine, catnaps and a never-ending supply of yawns.
His idea, if you’ll pardon the pun, doesn’t suck.