[ Note: Advance happy birthday to one of my favorite aunts, Ms Emma Montenegro in Las Vegas. Taos-pusong inaalay sa lahat ng kabayang uring manggagawa sa New Zealand, sa dairy workers, maggagatas, tagaalaga ng baka, tupa atbp, mga construction workers sa North at South Islands, mga obrero ng iba’t ibang uring trade work, at kung anu-ano pang mga industriya. Mabuhay po tayong lahat! ]
(…Just got back from night shift. I usually pick out a cold, cold brown bottle from the fridge, or half a glass of cheap Merlot, but I decided to spend it with you Precious Reader. Charing!)
SHIFT WORK, among others, teaches me two great lessons: to appreciate the unit value of time, and to appreciate free time, even if it involves doing nothing. Let me explain.
When you’re on afternoon or night shift, most of the time prior to work by absolute necessity is devoted to rest. Rest to recover from the previous shift, rest to recover from aches, pains or injuries sustained during work, and rest to refresh both the mind and body for the work ahead. Unlike a normal shift, rest will not come easily unless you deliberately and purposely lie your head on a pillow, remove all distractions, and knock yourself out into Dreamland.
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This is easier said than done. If you’re like me, every little thing, from ambient noise, white noise, small movements, will distract your focus from relaxation. Which, when you think about it, is actually a contradiction in terms. You really can’t “focus” or spend energy relaxing, because relaxing is by nature NOT spending energy, a release from activity. But you know what I mean.
So you spend a lot of time, at least half an hour to 45 minutes, getting into the netherworld between wakefulness and sleep. So if you’re on a tight schedule (and I usually am), meaning you only have a six to eight hour window before you’re back on the road, even a tiny fraction of an hour can spell the difference between a good rest and a blah one that converts into a stressed workday.
On average, I do this five straight days every other week, and I’ve been doing so for the better part of a year now, owing to staff issues and the constant need for production. Learning to sleep on demand at odd times and getting on with less sleep than normal is something I’ve learned to live with, but I don’t relish it, and I’ll never take sleep for granted.
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ON THE OTHER HAND, the last night shift, in fact the first few hours, minutes and moments after your last night shift, is a source of great exhilaration, because you are released from so many things. Of course there is the weekend or rest days ahead (you will usually start late your first day back as a reward for doing night shift but not always). But there’s also the exciting, exciting thought of NO MORE sleeping days, or afternoons, or stealing naps whenever you can.
More important, less than a few hours away, you will be able to sleep NORMALLY, that is, sleep at night, sleep in the dark, under the covers (it’s a little colder), and with no daytime noises inevitably interrupting your sleep.
But you can’t go to sleep at the moment. The buildup to the end of your last hour of your last day of your last night shift has been so great, you’re still flush with a bit of adrenaline from anticipating the moment.
But what has it built up to? Right now, right after work, right after earning your bread, you are actually idle, with nothing planned other than… sleep. As if there was gonna be another night shift tonight. Except that there’s no more night shift.
(Also, it’s early in the morning, when the sun is ablaze, birds are chirping, and the world is just starting to stir.)
But that’s perfectly OK. You don’t mind. You can spend the new day watching the news reruns from last night (if you can find it), read the newspaper, eat leftovers from last night, catch a McDo breakfast if you’re inspired enough, anything.
This is the bearable lightness I was talking about. The infinite pleasure of doing nothing and everything. The extreme satisfaction of doing nothing.
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It’s hard to explain, but doing night shift burdens you with multiple stresses. The basic stress of work. The stress of not getting enough sleep. The stress of irregular sleep (when it’s bright outside). The stress of having to prepare for the next night shift.
All these stresses disappear after your last night shift. The unburdening is so great and so satisfying that even doing nothing is a nearly indescribable pleasure.
I’m not sure if I’ve been able to tell you how it is, but the bottom line is: sleep is nearly as important as food and water on the list of basic needs in life.
And you don’t need to go on night shift to learn that.
Thanks for reading! Mabuhay po tayong lahat!