Last week, we were watching TV, and a commercial about “shift work disorder” came on. A rugged older gentleman in a flannel shirt was explaining about how he hadn’t realized how his job might be affecting his sleep patterns and quality of life, until his doctor asked him what hours he works. I laughed out loud. Then the commercial (which was for Nuvigil – used to improve wakefulness) went on to tell you to talk to your doctor, and then it went through the lengthy list of side effects, you know – the usual drill.
I think it is awesome to have dialogues about what’s going on in people’s lives and what might be improved, whether it’s with a prescription or other changes in lifestyle. And if having an official diagnosis helps more people figure out what’s going on and what they can do about it, more power to them. Just… personally, I find it absurd that this wouldn’t be a natural line of thinking. I think about this kind of stuff all the time.
I don’t work overnights (and am so glad for that), but I do have an “off” shift. Otherwise known as the “B-shift.” (My co-worker pronounces “shift” as “trick,” so I might interchange the two words from here on out – just a heads up.) I work 3pm-11:30pm. It is currently 12:50AM as I write this; I’ll probably go to bed by 2AM. This is what I do, Monday through Friday. It means that I never see my partner during the work week. We have to catch up via telephone, notes, and emails, which is sometimes extremely frustrating. It means that I don’t see much of anyone during the work week. Like, some friends are going out to dinner for someone’s birthday? Sorry, can’t make it. You’re going to the movies? Sounds like fun. I stopped being jealous over the stuff I was missing out on a long time ago. Better to just accept it. And, on special occasions, I can always just call in sick or work a half day or something.
I’ve found that there is often a natural camaraderie amongst people who work strange hours. For example, I’ll sometimes go to the grocery store, still in uniform, around midnight, and the cashier always wants to tell me what time she gets off work. And if I haven’t been in a while, she’ll ask, “Where you been?” Maybe the summer has passed by (I work like normal people during the summer), so I’ll say, “Oh, I was on a different trick.” And she’ll say, “That’s always the reason! Whenever I haven’t seen someone in a while, it’s because their trick changed.”
So, essentially, shift work disorder is a medical condition that can be diagnosed and treated by a doctor. (Phew!) It occurs when your job calls you to duty and you end up fighting against your natural circadian rhythms. It’ll cause insomnia when you’re trying to sleep, and ES (excessive sleepiness – so relieved that there’s a medically coded shortened version for this term!) while you need to work. Shift work disorder was invented in 2011 to help people figure out why they feel tired.
Whoa. Ok, lemme try to go back to the point where I do think this is all positive if it helps people improve their lives. I just worry people will see an ad on TV, or their physician will bring it up with them first, and they’ll just mindlessly pile on more pills to the over-medicated masses.
Like I mentioned, I don’t work overnights, so my experience is not nearly as extreme as many people’s. But I do want to point out that I feel like my work / sleep schedule has actually created MORE room for circadian rhythms to do their thing, according to the seasons. It seems only natural that people would feel the need to sleep more during the winter months, if they could. But I’d imagine most people’s schedules don’t allow for extra sleep. They have to get up with their alarm and get to work. Me? I can sleep as much as I want, apparently. I don’t generally have much going on in the mornings or early afternoons before work, so, often I’d let myself sleep 9-10 hours a night when it really seemed like I naturally tended toward this, roughly November-February. (A luxury, I know.) I was actually starting to feel concerned about all the oversleeping (I was wasting so much time!), but it abruptly righted itself; in February, I could no longer sleep in. As if, my body knew that spring was on the way and I better start getting ready!
Brand new diagnoses coming soon:
– sitting-on-the-couch disorder
– texting-while-driving disorder
– junk-food-for-lunch disorder
– gender identity disorder