Tuesday, January 21, 2014

working in chaos

I don't suppose that the comely readers of the Internet would take more than a passing, intellectual interest in it, but, based on experience, I was interested to read about some research suggesting that night work throws the human body "into chaos."

The possible links to physical ailments like type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart attacks seemed a bit tenuous in the article, but the crazy factor rang a bell.

During my time in the army, there was a period during which everyone took turns working "tricks" -- a schedule that meant working six days of day-shift (8-4) with a couple of days off followed by six days of swing shift (4-12) with a couple of days off followed by six days of graveyard shift (12-8).

Everyone was young and healthy and could do it, but there was always a sense of living on the edge, somehow ... of pushing some envelope of sanity. Yes, we could do it and took a strange pride in doing it but, hovering in some unnameable background, there was a feeling that this was viscerally nuts and that the program might, in fact, lead off some cliff into nuts-dom.

Later, and for 20 years, I worked a swing shift for a newspaper. Mostly I worked as a wire and copy editor, but on the occasions when I would try to write a news story at night, there was a sense of carrying some extra weight, as if I were not entirely up to snuff and this story, while passable, was not quite my best work.

Comely readers will note with disinterested accuracy that sleep deprivation can mess with anyone's mind. It's one of the great torture venues of the CIA and other such agencies. But as someone who had to provide for his family and felt he had no other choice, working nights was more than mere sleep deprivation for me. Without any compelling, adduce-able evidence, there was something baseline WRONG about it. I did it for 20 years, but that didn't make it right at the visceral level. It was, for lack of a better term, somehow chaotic... perhaps it was just, as the article suggests, my molecules in revolt.

I'm not sure how this dovetails with the late nights and early mornings of the Zen Buddhist meditation practice I have also been involved in, but I suppose something could be said about that.

But I'm not comely enough to say it.


  1. ;your use of the word "comely" is interesting. as a lexicographer im curious what it means to you.
    i sincerely disliked being on second shift but didn't mind being on 24 hour emergency response, there is a difference, i could still sleep when on call even if it got interrupted

  2. Pete -- And I slept when possible on the graveyard shift. It wasn't quite as fulfilling as a down pillow, but it was better than nothing.

    I meant "comely" to refer to that imagined majority which has never worked a night shift and thus has only an intellectual appreciation of the possibilities.