Unless you're a mole, a bat, a possum, a raccoon or an owl, working at night is not likely to be your favorite thing. Few of us ever get used to the idea. Trouble is, 20 million Americans work odd shifts _ often at night. Most of them don't get enough sleep, says a new report by the Better Sleep Council in Alexandria, Va.
It should be noted that the Better Sleep Council isn't neutral on the subject of sleep. Its primary support comes from mattress manufacturers, who prefer that people spend as much time as possible flat on their backs.
But the problems of working at night can be severe, according to reseachers who have studied the impact of night work on safety and stress. "Shift workers suffer from chronic sleep deprivation," says Donald Tepas, a psychology professor at the University of Connecticut. "They want to be able to eat with the rest of the family and spend time with their kids, so they cheat on their sleep to be part of society."
Tepas contends that night workers sleep seven hours a week less than day workers, even though they need as much sleep as anyone else.
"They are willing to give up sleep for other benefits, such as not having to hire child care, or being able to do things during the day without taking time off from work," he says.
The down side, he says, is that night workers are more prone to sickness, accidents and drug and alcohol problems than people who work during the day.
Timothy Monk, who conducts psychiatric research at the University of Pittsburgh, has found that night work is a common cause of family tension. The worker is on one schedule, the family on another.
Employers may pay more for night work, says Monk, but the worker is expected to cope with personal problems on his own.
He suggests that night workers avoid coffee, tea and other caffeine drinks during the last three hours of a shift, go straight home, eat a light meal and hop into bed immediately.
"You should disconnect the doorbell and the telephone, close the drapes and turn on a fan or air conditioner," he says. "Heavy carpeting on the floor helps to block out noise."