The World of the Nocturnalist

April 21, 2002

Welcome to Wyndspirit Dreams! I have been asked why I work nights. How can I handle it? Why would I want to work nights, anyway? Well there are both good and bad aspects to working nights…

Working the night shift is something like being a new mother. At first it’s a novelty, but then I become obsessed with getting sleep. I consider every potential appointment and analyze when I will be able to sleep that day and how little I can get by on to survive that night at work. And, like a new mother, I am offered well-meant advice. "You need to sleep when the baby sleeps." "If you get to bed right away when you get home, you should be able to get in a good four hours sleep and still meet me for lunch and then we can hit the mall and if we’re back by four, you can get a little more sleep before work, can’t you?" Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way, and some days—or weeks—I go around in a haze of exhaustion. When the phone rings in the afternoon, I wonder how the caller would like it if I called them at 3 a.m. My days off are a juggling act trying to get the most done with the minimum amount of sleep required to survive. I can’t remember the last time I had an unbroken eight hours of sleep, and I feel guilty every time I read a new survey about the importance of sleep for good health. I wonder if I’m killing myself—and sometimes I feel like I am—but I keep on doing it anyway.

On the job, it takes a special breed to work the night shift. I am extremely independent, relying only on myself and my like-minded night shift co-workers, feeling smothered when there is more than one supervisor on the premises. I have gotten used to making decisions on my own, and throw a fit when management decrees that I need supervisor approval to do something. I like the peace of a quieter, dimly-lit building, with mostly vacant cubicles. When I have to come in on days for some reason, I wonder how anybody can get anything done with all the hubbub.

There are definitely advantages to working nights. I love watching the world around me coming to life, beginning the workday, while I have finished mine already. Even on weekends when I have to work, I like to watch my neighbors begin their days, and guess at what their weekend plans are. It’s 6 a.m. and he’s heading out of town in his truck—bet he’s going fishing! It’s Sunday morning… Wonder if they’re getting ready for church? Then there is the shopping… Once you get used to hitting Wal-Mart at 6 a.m. when you are the only customer in the store, you won’t be able to stand it during the day! When customers are outnumbered by employees ten to one, you get first class service.

Then there is the mystery and beauty of the night world. I love watching the lights of the city in the distance. I have been fortunate enough to live near airports, and I love watching the lights of aircraft preparing for takeoff. Or maybe as I drive down a quiet dark road, I’ll get to see some nocturnal wildlife. In the fall I don’t wonder if I’ll see a deer, but where.

When the nights are long, during the deepest part of winter, I come home and stand outside my car and gaze at the glorious winter stars. Sometimes—if I am working an early enough shift and the timing is perfect—I have even gotten to see northern lights. When the days get a little longer, I love to watch the dawn creep in. I sit in my favorite chair in my dark living room and watch the night outside my windows slowly lighten until the first rays of sun light the clouds in the east. Then there are the early spring mornings! The air is damp and tangy and still cool, maybe even misty, and filled with birdsong.

But there are two big reasons I prefer to work nights. The first one is—daylight! I can’t even imagine spending day after day cooped up in an office, only getting to see daylight at a distance. I do my work while it’s dark out anyway, and I am free during all the daylight hours. Sure, I need to sleep, but I can choose when. In the winter, when the days are so short, I can be outside shoveling snow and soaking up what little sunshine there is. It does wonders for the winter blues! And summer… Ah, summer! I love puttering in my garden before it gets hot. The second reason is, it allows me more time to get together with family and friends. When my sisters come out to the farm for a weekend, I can at least come out for the day, even if I have to work that weekend. Recently I spent an afternoon browsing in Barnes and Noble with a friend. One time I went to the zoo with my sister and her family. I couldn’t have done any of those things if I worked a day shift. And, believe me, that is worth an awful lot of missed sleep!

Wyndspirit Dreams